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Senator bites state's stance on dog fighting
Eric Johnson Office 2
Sen. Eric Johnson sits in his Atlanta office. - photo by Courier file photo
The recent charges leveled against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick for alleged involvement in dog fighting at his Virginia home has one state senator pushing for harsher penalties for the same crime in Georgia.
State Senate President Pro Tempore Eric Johnson (R-Savannah) wrote a column this week blasting the state’s weak stance on the issue and disputing claims dog fighting was a “sport.”
“If Michael Vick had been hosting dog fights at his million dollar estate in Georgia, our laws would send him to prison for a year with a fine of less than $5,000. But our law doesn’t address the industry behind the actual fight,” the senator wrote. “Dog fighting is not a sport — it is animal abuse and it is time we bring it to a halt in this state.”
Dog fighting, when two aggressive dogs (often trained to be vicious) battle each other in “matches” until one of them is killed or near death, has been a popular underground activity in both rural and urban Georgia for years.
Contests normally take place in makeshift “pit arenas” and last an average of an hour, although many can go on for as long as two hours, according to research by The Humane Society of the United States.
Despite the brutality of the activity, loose laws in the state have made it hard to prosecute participants.
According to a report by the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, between 1995 and 2006, 271 people were charged with dog fighting. Of the convicted, only eight received prison sentences and 107 were given probation.
Members of the Georgia General Assembly have attempted to slow the practice by introducing tougher animal cruelty legislation, but those efforts have been met with opposition from sportsmen’s groups, animal trainers and even other legislators.
With the nature of dog fighting receiving increased attention in the wake of the Vick indictment, however, Johnson is urging lawmakers in the Georgia House to support Senate Bill 16, which passed in the Senate earlier this year.
“Senate Bill 16 will make it illegal for a person to own, breed, purchase or transport a dog for the purpose of fighting or baiting,” he wrote. “It will fortify the present laws to increase prison time and fines for those who partake in dog fighting — as a breeder, a sponsor or a stakeholder.”
Known as the “Dog Fighting Act,” SB 16 would make it a felony to attend dog fighting events and could bar participants from ever owning or possessing animals again.
Approved by a 54-1 vote in the Senate, the bill now sits in the House Non-Civil Judiciary Committee awaiting a hearing and vote in the 2008 legislative session.
“The House of Representatives must now address this epidemic and I encourage them to bring this bill to a vote,” Johnson concluded. “This time next year, we need to have strong law in place so that anyone who engages in dog fighting will be severely punished.”
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