There was a big dogfighting bust in Indianapolis over the weekend, and that has led animal rights activists to renew their longstanding efforts to strengthen the state's animal fighting laws. Promoting or using animals for fights are felony charges. But attending the fights is a lesser offense:
An additional 14 people were charged with attendance with an animal at a fighting contest which, in many states, is a felony. But in Indiana, the crime is a misdemeanor, which is the main reason Indiana ranks 31st out of 50 states in stringency of dogfighting laws, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
In Illinois, for example, which ranks fourth on the Humane Society's list, attending an animal fight is a felony with a possible three-year prison term and a fine of up to $25,000.
"Certainly misdemeanor penalties have an effect on where people go to engage in the activity," said Chris Schindler, manager of animal fighting law enforcement for the Human Society of the United States.
"If they're only getting a misdemeanor charge as opposed to a felony charge, individuals know they can get caught, but they know they won't go down on serious charges."
I have mixed feelings. It's common in law to make the charges for enabling something stiffer than those for just participating -- consider our laws on selling and possessing illegal drugs, for example. And anytime it appears that a law is designed to "make a statement" or "send a message," we should have a second thought and then a third. The peanlties involved are Class D felonies, which can carry punishment of up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and Class A misdemeanors, which can carry one year and $5,000. That seems reasonable.
But if no one attends animal fights, there won't be animal fights. Though such fights have a long history in our culture and our Anglo-Saxon past, we've come to see them as barbaric in their needless cruelty, even depraved.