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Punishing blood sport
House bill would make organized animal fighting a federal felony

By Paul Huggins
DAILY Staff Writer 340-2395

The Humane Society of the United States seeks help to get a tougher animal cruelty law approved by Congress this year.

The group specifically wants citizens to push the House to approve H.R. 817, which would make all organized animal fighting a federal felony.

John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society, said establishing the federal felony would help crack down on professional fighting operations that cross state borders.

Goodwin contacted THE DAILY this week after reading about Lucky, an abused dog suspected of having been used in illegal dogfighting.

Currently, dogfighting is a federal misdemeanor. It is a felony in 48 states, including Alabama, while chicken fighting is a misdemeanor in 16 states, including Alabama.

Federal investigators are concerned about animal fighting but are less motivated to deal with misdemeanor crimes, Goodwin said.

"It targets the people who breed fighting dogs and chickens and have all these markets all over the country," he said. "Right now we've got some of these major breeders of fighting dogs who advertise in magazines and on the Web, and they make big money selling game-bred pit bulls off of proven bloodlines."

Decatur case

Should Congress pass the law, an illegal dogfight that occurred in Decatur and involved a dog from Tennessee would become a federal case. Even though the offense occurred in Alabama, federal officials could expand the investigation to Tennessee and even go after whoever originally sold the fighting dog.

"So it really gives law enforcement the ability to hit these guys broadly and really dismantle these networks of animal fighters," Goodwin said.

Sgt. Rick Archer, head of the Decatur police homicide/robbery unit, said the department plans to follow up the dozens of tips he's received about dogfighting, and he would welcome federal help.

It would give local law enforcement agencies more personnel to track a case, as well as special support, such as helicopter surveillance, he said.

The proposed law passed the U.S. Senate unanimously in April. The House has not voted on it because it is stuck in the Judiciary Committee.

Republican Rep. Mark Green of Wisconsin sponsored the bill in the House, and it has received 221 co-sponsors, including Rep. Bud Cramer, D-Huntsville.

A spokesman for Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said the congressman has not had a chance to study the bill.

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