Missouri senators target dogfighting legislation

Monday, February 25, 2008 | 9:47 p.m. CST; updated 12:27 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY - In light of recent high-profile dogfighting cases, such as the incident involving Michael Vick and an October dogfighting bust in Stoddard County, senators in Jefferson City are looking to tackle legislation that would expand the state’s dogfighting laws.

Legislation that would put tougher sanctions on spectators at dogfights and ease restrictions on the confiscation of dogs believed to be involved in dogfighting was heard on Monday night by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Scott Rupp, R-St. Louis, and co-sponsored by Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, would make it a felony to be a spectator at a minimum of two dogfights. Rupp said that in light of recent cases, the committee should look at treating dogfighting spectators in the same way they do participants.

“We think by strengthening these penalties, we send a really important message to anyone that watches dogfighting activity, that it is a serious crime and they will be treated under the same law as anyone who actively participates in such activity,” Rupp said.

Another provision of the bill would allow officers or public officials to confiscate dogs they think are involved in dogfighting, as well as any other property involved in the crime. The bill would also establish guidelines in caring for dogs confiscated in connection with dogfighting cases and would target the high cost of caring for these dogs.

The dog’s owner would then have 30 days to appeal the seizure and would be responsible for maintaining the costs of caring for the animal while in the care of a veterinarian or animal shelter.

Debbie Hill of the Missouri Humane Society estimated in testimony to the committee that caring for the 26 dogs confiscated in October in Stoddard County cost more than $35,000 from Oct. 21 until last month.

“We don’t want to forget what the true face of dogfighting is,” Hill said. “It’s not Michael Vick. It is the animals who are abused in this fashion. And holding these dogs indefinitely is a further injustice to those animals, contributing to their physical and mental decline.”

The committee also looked at a bill one member dubbed “the castle doctrine for dogs.” The bill would broaden circumstances in which people could defend themselves against a dog, as well as impose criminal and civil sanctions on owners of dogs with multiple attacks on their record.

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