Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been indicted for running a dog-fighting ring on property he owns in Virginia. As a result of the indictment, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has instructed Vick not to report to the Falcons’ pre-season camp until the league reviews the charges against him.
Among the evidence that has been collected in the case against Vick are 55 pit bulls that were seized on his property. Other allegations include the discovery of eight young dogs that had been put to death after they were supposedly found not ready to fight. They allegedly had been killed by hanging, drowning and/or slamming their body to the ground.
Traditionally associated with rural settings, dogfighting has now moved to the inner city where gangs are increasing involved. Many dogfighting raids have turned up drugs and weapons as well as gambling money.
These gruesome revelations of the underground world of dogfighting have brought renewed attention to the need of broadening the laws prohibiting this practice. While Michael Vick is being charged under federal laws that prohibit the transporting of fighting dogs across state lines and engaging in dogfighting, many states are addressing the problem of dogfighting with tougher laws of their own.
Unfortunately, the state of Georgia has lagged behind in its efforts to toughen anti-dogfighting laws. Officials with the Humane Society of the United States have said that Georgia has some of the weakest anti-dogfighting laws in the nation.
Under current state laws, in order to charge someone with a felony offense of dogfighting, an officer must actually see the dogs fighting. Because of this stipulation police could raid a dogfight and find dozens of dead or injured dogs, owners, trainers, spectators and equipment but could only charge the people they saw fighting dogs when they came in.
Although dogfighting is a felony in Georgia, our state is one of only three that doesn’t outlaw the possession of fighting dogs. We are also one of the two states in our nation where it’s legal to be a spectator at a dogfight.
Three years ago, during my freshman year in the legislature, a bill was introduced that would have outlawed any person from owning, keeping or otherwise possessing any live pit bull within the state. The legislation would have exempted any pit bull that had been maintained by a resident of the state for at least six months as long as the animal was neutered and prevented from coming in contact with the public.
Although the legislation was primarily in response to a number of attacks on children that had occurred throughout the state, it was also intended to stop the raising of these dogs for fighting purposes.
The onslaught of opposition to the proposed legislation was startling. I received literally thousands of e-mails, phone calls and letters opposing such a breed specific law. One protester stood outside the steps of the capitol with a pit bull on a leash in one hand and a bright pink sign in the other stating her opposition to the legislation and inviting us to pet Fido.
During the recently completed legislative session, two bills were introduced in the Legislature that would have expanded the current anti-dogfighting laws. Although neither passed, the proposed legislation would have made it a felony to train, own or breed fighting dogs, possess equipment to fight dogs and organize or stage a dogfight. Also spectators found at a dogfight or anyone who brings a minor to a dogfight could be charged with a misdemeanor.
While the Atlanta Falcons may have lost their starting quarterback and Michael Vick’s career is in jeopardy, look for the state of Georgia to gain much tougher anti-dogfighting laws during the next legislative session thanks to the attention this despicable case has generated.