U.S. Senate and House Leaders Introduce the “HEART” Act on Valentine’s Day to Protect Victims of Dogfighting

ASPCA commends federal lawmakers for introducing legislation to help dogfighting victims find safe and loving homes more quickly
February 14, 2019

WASHINGTON– The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) commends federal lawmakers for introducing legislation to significantly improve the process of caring for animal victims seized in federal animal fighting cases. The Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act, S.513/H.R.1228, sponsored by Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), and Reps. Judy Chu (D-CA) and John Katko (R-NY), will prevent unnecessary delays in the rehoming and rehabilitation of these animals. It will also require defendants to reimburse the costs of caring for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases. 

Currently, when animals fall victim to cruelty and are seized in federal dogfighting busts, they often endure months or even years-long stays in shelters as the related cases make their way through the federal court system. While these cases are pending, animal welfare agencies house, feed, and provide critical veterinary and behavioral care for the seized animals. Even when high-quality care is provided, this extended period of legal limbo can cause extreme stress and behavioral problems, and also prevents them from being adopted into new homes.

The astronomical cost of sheltering seized animals for extended periods of time depletes the limited financial resources of animal protection agencies and local shelters, making it difficult or impossible for them to participate in rescue operations. When the care of animal victims cannot be confirmed, law enforcement is less likely to investigate and intervene in animal fighting operations. The HEART Act ensures that those claiming ownership of seized animals bear the financial responsibility for their care, while preserving these owners’ due process rights.

“Dogfighting is a brutal ‘blood-sport’ in which innocent animals are forced to train, fight and suffer for the entertainment and profit of spectators,” said Richard Patch, vice president, federal affairs of ASPCA Government Relations. “These animals have suffered enough at the hands of their abusers, and the red tape of the federal forfeiture system should not be a barrier to their adoption. We are grateful to Senators Harris and Collins, and Representatives Chu and Katko, for championing the HEART Act to streamline the process to give these victims of cruelty the chance they deserve to find safe and loving homes.”

“Abusing animals and intentionally provoking them is not only wrong, it’s immoral. When our government saves animals that have been victims of cruelty and abuse, we must do everything we can to ensure their welfare,” said Sen. Harris. “I’m proud to reintroduce this bill to streamline the process of getting these animals the care they need and ensuring that they are properly cared for in the future.”

“Animals who have been rescued from cruelty and abuse deserve to be placed in loving homes as soon as it is safely possible,” said Sen. Collins. “Based on recommendations by the Department of Justice’s Animal Cruelty Roundtable, the HEART Act would reduce the minimum amount of time animals must be held in shelters and alleviate the financial burdens that fall on those who care for seized animals. I urge our colleagues to join us in support of this bipartisan bill to better help animals that have experienced inhumane treatment.” 

“Dog fighting is a particularly heinous crime that must be stamped out, but, unfortunately, when the animals are seized, the cost and care often falls on local shelters,” said Rep. Chu. “Court proceedings can take over a year, which means the cost of doing the right thing can total millions of dollars. Additionally, shelters are unable to rehabilitate these animals until the proceedings have completed, which leaves animals stressed. It’s unjust that taxpayers and local shelters are picking up the tab for the care of these animals. This bill would help remedy that by allowing courts to consider animal welfare when determining trial expediency and requiring responsible parties to reimburse taxpayers and shelters for the cost of caring for animals. I am so pleased to be able work bipartisanly to help keep animals safe and place responsibility where it belongs. And today’s introduction of the HEART Act brings us one crucial step closer.”

“Animals saved from fighting rings deserve to be matched with loving, caring homes. Furthermore, we must hold criminals legally and financially responsible for the abuse of these animals,” said Rep. Katko. “The HEART Act accomplishes both initiatives. Under this legislation, the disposition process is improved, animals spend less time in shelters, and individuals responsible for harming animals are required to pay the costs of the animals’ care. Animal abuse and neglect has no place in our society. I am proud to once again sponsor this legislation and will continue to work with my colleagues in Congress to address this issue.”

In 2013, the ASPCA participated in the second-largest dogfighting case in U.S. history, a case that spanned four states and resulted in 10 arrests. Some of the 367 dogs rescued spent more than a year in temporary shelters until the criminal case was adjudicated. The ASPCA spent more than $3 million to care for the dogs, at an average cost of $39 per dog, per day. This is not uncommon, but fortunately, the HEART Act will help address these problems to allow courts to consider the animals’ welfare when considering further delays.

Although dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, it continues to occur in every part of the country and in every type of community. In the past nine years, the ASPCA has assisted with approximately 200 dogfighting cases in at least 24 states, and has impacted through rescue, consultations and investigations nearly 5,000 victims of dogfighting. 

For more information on the ASPCA’s efforts to tackle dogfighting or to join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade, please visit www.aspca.org.