Dog fighting has plagued society since the 18th century with widespread expansion after the civil war. Although unquantified, that expansion has continued through the 20th century and, after a slackening in the 1990s, has apparently rebounded. According to the ASPCA, there are different levels of dog fighting activity. “Street fighters,” who are often associated with gangs, run dog fights in alleys, on corners and in playgrounds. “Hobbyists” participate in organized fights a few times per year. “Professional” dog fighters breed, sell and fight dogs, turning their miserable endeavor into a big business. Unfortunately, dog fight enthusiasts come from every strata of society, drawn in by money, the thrill of the fight and sadism. As with drugs, it is the consumer of the dog fight, who keeps the street fighters, the lobbyists and the professionals in business.
There is no redeeming social value in dog fighting. It involves the pitting of two animals against each other, sometimes to the death. The dogs literally tear each other apart and are often left critically wounded. The animals that survive are not treated humanely and generally never see a veterinarian. The tragedy for these dogs is not just the grotesque abuse they are subject to in the pit, but as one scholar put it, because “they literally suffer their entire lives.”
Last week, the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee voted to approve legislation (A2379) that would impose stiffer penalties on those engaged in dog fighting. The bill adds “leading a dog fighting network” to the list of racketeering offenses under RICO and subjects such a leader to a second degree conviction, 5-10 years in jail and a $150,000 fine. It also enhances the penalties for dog fighting by imposing longer jail time (3-5 years) and higher fines (up to $15,000) on participants, including observers. The legislation also provides restrictions on the right of those convicted of dog fighting to own animals in the future.
If the Assembly Bill becomes law, it may not end dog fighting altogether but it is a step in the right direction. In addition to imposing penalties significant enough to have a potential deterrent effect on the malefactors, the enactment of the law will have the symbolic benefit of underscoring that our fellow citizens abhor the violence of dog fighting and are aligned against its perpetrators.