In-Depth: Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) introduced this bill to expedite the disposition process for animals seized in federal animal fighting cases, hold offenders financially responsible for the care of animals in custody, and let courts take animals’ welfare into account when considering legal delays:
“All animals must be treated humanely, free from cruelty and abuse, as they often become extended members of our families. We must do all we can to ensure that the welfare of these animals who have been victims of cruelty is a priority, and remove any red tape that prevents them from being properly and safely cared for.”
Original cosponsor Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) adds that this bill is based on recommendations from the DOJ’s Animal Cruelty Roundtable:
“Animals who have been rescued from cruelty and abuse deserve to be placed in loving homes as soon as it is safely possible. Our legislation, which is based on recommendations by the Department of Justice’s Animal Cruelty Roundtable, 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 have long advocated for policies that improve the welfare of animals, and I urge my colleagues to support this legislation to help protect animals that have experienced inhumane treatment.”
The ASPCA, which supports this bill, says:
“When the ASPCA assists law enforcement during dogfighting raids, we often find dogs—even puppies—tethered to heavy chains, living without food, water or proper shelter, and horrifically wounded and scarred. After medical attention and rehabilitation, many dogs rescued from these cruel situations can go on to enjoy happy lives in loving homes. But sadly, in many instances animals can suffer in limbo while the abusers’ court cases progress through an often slow-moving legal system. The lengthy holding periods in federal animal fighting cases can result in debilitating stress and health problems for the animals involved, even when shelters provide high-quality care. Also, the astronomical cost of holding and caring for seized animals for long periods unnecessarily burdens animal protection groups and local shelters. These problems can discourage future animal fighting investigations, meaning fewer animals get saved. The HEART Act (H.R. 398/S. 2633) seeks to address these issues by requiring the owners of animals seized in federal animal fighting cases to be responsible for the cost of their care. The bill will also expedite the processes to get these animals rehabilitated and adopted into safe and loving homes faster.”
There are 10 cosponsors of this bill, including one Republican and nine Democrats. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), Humane Society, National Sheriffs’ Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and National Humane Education Society also support this bill.
Of Note: Animal fighting is a staged fight between two or more animals, or between a human and an animal, for the purpose of human entertainment, wagering, or sport. In some instances, one of the animals may be a “bait animal” used for sport or training. In the U.S., the three most common types of animal fighting are dogfighting, cockfighting, and hog-dog fighting. In recent years, the most prominent animal fighting case in the U.S. was that of former NFL star quarterback Michael Vick, who ran a kennel called “Bad Newz Kennels” that housed and trained over 50 pitbulls, staged dog fights, killed dogs, and ran a high-stakes gambling ring with purses up to $26,000.
In organized animal fighting cases in which law enforcement seize the animals in a raid, there are usually many animals that must be cataloged as evidence, provided with medical treatment, and sheltered for the duration of the court case. Recent dogfighting raids have resulted in the seizures of anywhere from one to nearly 500 dogs, with an average of 35 dogs per case. Often, animals seized in dogfighting raids have specific medical and behavioral needs, and their housing, assessment, and disposition can be complicated and expensive. Additionally, security precautions may be necessary at the shelter due to the risk of animals from “champion bloodlines” being stolen.
For animals held as evidence, lengthy forfeiture cases leave them in shelters for months, unable to be rehabilitated or put up for adoption. Due to the amount of time they spend in shelters, chronic stress leads to greater serious physical and behavioral deterioration for these animals.
Currently, the costs of caring for animals rescued from abuse are rarely, if ever, reimbursed by those who abused the animals — they’re paid by nonprofit animal protection organizations and local and federal funds. The financial responsibility local municipalities take on to pay for the care of abused animals discourages future animal abuse investigations and seizures.
There’s an existing federal statute, the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (2007), that imposes federal penalties for interstate commerce, import, and export relating to commerce in fighting dogs, fighting cocks, and cockfighting paraphernalia. Each violation of this Act can result in up to three years in jail and a $250,000 fine.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / luxiangjian4711)