Illinois Toughens Dog Fighting Laws

Friday, June 1, 2012

Springfield, IL – The Animal Welfare Institute commends the Illinois General Assembly for passing and sending to the governor legislation that allows the prosecution of leaders of dog fighting networks under Illinois’ anti-racketeering (RICO) laws, providing an important new tool for prosecutors to apply against dog fighting organizers and financiers. Typically dogfight arrests result in charges against those physically at dogfights during raids” and breeders often face only misdemeanor charges. But the leaders of these operations often are not caught in dog fighting busts because they are not present and thus escape punishment. If, however, if certain dog fighting offenses are made a predicate crime under Illinois’ RICO statute, the perpetrators would face tougher penalties than the current dog fighting law allows and the sentence could also include restitution and/or fines. The new law would also enable the state to seize assets from dog fight leaders, which could serve as an especially useful deterrent.

Animal fighting is barbaric. It is a violent crime that causes immense suffering to countless numbers of innocent animals. But it threatens our communities in many other ways. There is a strong connection between animal fighting and other forms of violence, and animal fighting is frequently associated with gangs, drugs, gambling, money laundering, illegal guns, and other offenses—even homicide. Reporting on the sentencing of the kingpin of a drug trafficking ring in Louisiana, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency described him as “an avid pit bull and cock fighter [who] utilized these illegal events as a networking tool to recruit members to transport and sell marijuana and cocaine for his organization.” The Animal Legal and Historical Center at the Michigan State University College of Law describes dog fighting in these stark terms:

“The notion that dog fighting is simply an animal welfare issue is clearly erroneous…. The magnitude of criminal activity concurrently taking place at the average dogfight is of such a scope as to warrant the involvement of a wide range of agencies,including local, regional, and federal law enforcement agencies and their specialized divisions such as organized crime units, SWAT teams, and vice squads, as well as animal control agencies and child protective services.”

“The Illinois legislature’s action well serves the entire state by giving law enforcement a more powerful tool for prosecuting dog fighting,” said Nancy Blaney, AWI Senior Policy Advisor. “We especially want to thank the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Mike Zalewski, for working tirelessly to get the bill through the General Assembly, and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel for making this a legislative priority.  We urge Governor Quinn to sign this bill.”

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For More Information Contact:

Nancy Blaney, (202) 446-2141, nancy@awionline.org