(Warning: This article may contain disturbing images that could be upsetting for sensitive viewers.)
Brutal. Vicious. Unpredictable. Those are a few words to describe the owners of dogs that are made to fight in this underground “sport.” People get involved with dogfighting for the money, the prestige, or maybe the most deranged reason… because they enjoy it!
But is dogfighting illegal? In America? Worldwide? We’ll look at these issues in depth to see if the answers are cut and dry or if there’s wiggle room to skirt the law.
Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states in the US since 1976, the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Even being a spectator at a dogfight is illegal in all 50 states.
We’ll discuss some places in the world where it is legal, the most infamous dogfighter of all time, and other information proponents of dogfighting don’t want us to talk about.
Shining light on the underbelly of an issue forces awareness which can bring about change. So let’s do just that!
Overview of Dogfighting
Most people are civilized, compassionate human beings. On the flip side, there are also those who make Freddy Krueger look like a nice guy. Dogfighters, owners of dogs made to fight, would be on that list.
Just because dogfighting is illegal in America doesn’t mean it doesn’t occur. It can happen in the smallest town and the largest city with all kinds of people involved, from drug dealers to physicians.
We’ll discuss the great fall of a retired professional football player Michael Vick, and what he’s doing today.
There are also things you can do to help stop this horrific activity and make sure no other cherished dog has to ever again be made to fight.
Dog Fighting History
Although people have been fighting dogs against each other for eons, the sport became legitimate when the ancient Romans got greedy. They decided to spin the practice of bull-baiting into dogs fighting dogs, turn it into an event, and invite the public.
People came in throngs. (Bullbaiting was a popular sport in medieval Europe where dogs were made to attack a tethered bull sometimes until death).
As most things do, the sport made its way throughout Europe and then to America shortly before the Civil War. Due to its horrific nature, it never reached public arenas but was, and is, always cloaked in secrecy. That’s how bad guys work.
What Is Dog Fighting?
Dogfighting is appropriately called a blood sport and is when dogs who have been conditioned and trained to fight are placed in a pit to battle until one is overtaken or dies. It’s as barbaric a sport/practice as there is and proves just how low some people will reach for a dollar.
In the legal sense, the definition of dogfighting is “Owning, possessing, keeping, or training dogs with the intent to engage in an exhibition of fighting the dog with another animal for amusement or gain or permit such acts on premises under one’s personal control.” – Randall Lockwood, Ph.D.
However you say it, we must remember… Dogs are the victims. People are criminals.
What Happens in a Dogfight?
Canine participants, specifically trained for this activity, are forced to fight each other in a ring into submission or death. In a (human) dogfighter’s mind, the more spectators, the better since attendance translates into more money.
There are often illegal gambling, drug and arms deals, and other nefarious activities taking place at a dogfight.
Facts about Dogfighting
- In the past decade, the ASPCA has assisted with approximately 200 dogfighting cases in at least 24 states.
- According to the ASPCA, there are tens of thousands of dogfighters in the US, forcing hundreds of thousands of dogs to participate.
- After a fight, dogs are routinely shot, beaten, or tortured.
- There are three general levels of dogfighting: Professionals, hobbyists, and street fighters.
Dog Fighting Breeds
When the bloodsport started, the pit bull terrier variety was most often used to fight.
- American Pit Bull Terrier
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Staffordshire Bull Terrier
- American Bulldog
There are many breeds of dogs used for fighting worldwide – including the Fila Brasileiro, Dogo Argentino, the Tosa Inu, and the Presa Canario – the dog of choice for fighting in the United States is the American Pit Bull Terrier.
There are also levels of dogfighting in America. Those on the “streetfighter” level will sometimes use almost any large dog breed to fight. (Ex: Akita, Doberman, German Shepherd, etc.)
Why Do People Get Involved in Dog Fighting?
The lure, the “pot of gold,” is what drives most to any illegal activity – money and/or prestige. Money is made from admission fees and betting proceeds. The feeling of being famous or well-known for owning a “winner” also pulls in these kinds of people.
Animal Suffering And Dog Fighting
The dog fighting injuries of these precious animals run the gamut, but here are typical ones found on victims:
- Torn flesh
- Deep puncture wounds
- Broken/dislocated bones
- Missing body parts (ear, tail, paw)
- Severe bruising
Injuries can be anywhere on the body, but the head, neck, and leg areas are more prone to being injured due to the nature of dog fighting.
Dogfighting promotes the following:
- Insensitivity – When we see or hear about things repeatedly, we can become desensitized to them, especially if it happens when we’re children. Gangbangers often use dogfighting as an event to attend if one is being initiated into a gang for this reason.
- Gangs – Like attracts like. Meaning illegal activities generally attract more like them. Since most gang members aren’t looking to go see the latest romantic movie as their choice of entertainment, they’re often found at dog fights – something else that’s violent and illegal.
- Gambling – Illegal gambling saturates the dogfighting world. Bets are placed on dogs and fights. It’s not uncommon for authorities to find tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars attached to organized dogfighting operations.
- Drug trafficking – Traffickers know where fertile grounds are, and dogfighting venues are full of it.
- Other criminal activities – Money counterfeiting, illegal sales of firearms, and more happen at dogfights since there are fewer chances of getting caught by authorities.
What Are Bait Dogs
Bait dogs are almost always stolen or stray dogs, and they’re used for practice to train the dogs that are going to fight. These handpicked dogs are generally poor fighters with submissive personalities so as not to injure the “fighter dog,” or they are muzzled so they can’t fight back. Bait dogs are injured, maimed, and killed.
Dog fighting is a cruel and illegal activity that can result in felony charges for those involved. Let’s explore the felony charges in dog fighting, including what they are, how they are determined, and the potential consequences for those involved.
The possession of dogs for the purpose of fighting is illegal and is a felony offense.
Each state determines the dogfighting definition and chooses its punishment. Here are a few examples:
To own, possess, keep, or train any dog with the intent that such dog shall be engaged in an exhibition of fighting with another dog; For amusement or gain, to cause any dog to fight with another dog, or cause any dogs to injure each other.
Owns, possesses, keeps, breeds, trains, buys, sells, or advertises or offers for sale any animal with the intent that the animal shall be engaged in an exhibition of fighting with another animal.
Dog fighting is an illegal practice in which two dogs, usually of a Pit Bull breed, are put into an enclosed area for the purpose of attacking and, quite frequently, killing each other.
Punishments vary depending on the number of dogs involved and the number of laws broken – which state the offenses were committed in and which authority/judge it’s under are also contributing factors.
First convictions bring fines of up to $5,000 and/or prison sentences of 1-5 years. Second convictions can be punishable by fines of $15,000 minimum with a prison sentence of 1-10 years.
Since animal cruelty can also result in felony penalties, fines, and prison sentences can increase.
It shall be a Class C felony for any person to be knowingly present, as a spectator, at any place, building, or tenement where preparations are being made for an exhibition of the fighting of dogs, with the intent to be present at such preparations, or to be knowingly present at such exhibition or to knowingly aid or abet another in such exhibition.
It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly attend an animal fighting venture; or…cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture.” (source)
Violators could face up to one year in prison for attending a fight and up to three years in prison for bringing a minor to a fight.
What Are the Harmful Aspects of Training Dogs for Fighting?
The most important and distressing aspect of training dogs for fighting is the physical and psychological pain inflicted on the animal:
- The cruelty/abuse and killing of dogs.
- Dogs can be damaged emotionally for life.
- The vicious cycle of a sociopathic/psychopathic mind fueled by being in control of the dogfighting process feeds off itself to further harm all involved.
- Dogfighting can introduce crime into the community and/or perpetuate it.
- It can increase domestic violence. (Often, those who fight dogs have violent tendencies and can attack people in their own homes when their dog loses or their status/reputation is in jeopardy.)
- Dogfights can become the starting point and gateway for living a life of crime.
What Are the Laws Related to Dog Fighting?
The two below are laws created due to dog fighting. They’re in addition to the two above that explain being a participant or a spectator.
AWA (Animal Welfare Act) (Amendment)
This law is the primary federal animal protection law. Originally passed in 1966 to ensure the humane treatment of animals in the US, it has since been amended eight (8) times in the past 50+ years. In 2007, the following was added:
To amend title 18, United States Code, to strengthen prohibitions against animal fighting, and for other purposes… Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress [NOTE: Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007…]
Breed Specific Legislation
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is a “blanket term for laws that regulate or ban certain dog breeds in an effort to decrease dog attacks on humans and other animals,” according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The laws are also called pit bull bans and breed-discriminatory laws. – Britannica
In the 80s, attacks by pit bull-type dogs were sensationalized after there were several incidences of humans being attacked by them. Here are the facts about the “rampant” instances:
By combining data from the National Center for Health Statistics and computerized searching of news stories, we identified 157 dog bite-related fatalities that occurred in the United States from 1979 through 1988. – National Library of Medicine
Frankly, with the dogfighting that was happening then across the country, as it is now, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were many more fatalities. If these dogs had no rehabilitation training, they had no chance of living the life of a normal dog.
There Are Three Distinct Problems with BSL
- There is no proof that dogs born as a bully breed are naturally aggressive. It’s the people who TRAIN THEM TO BE AGGRESSIVE who need stricter laws and punishments against breeding, housing, owning, and/or fighting them.
- If proponents of BSL would use their energy and money to investigate dogfighting incidences across the country rather than banning an entire type of dog, much progress could be made for bully breeds.
- Any number of dog breeds have been labeled “aggressive” yet have no legislation against them. Breeds like the Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd, Rottweilers, Mastiffs, and Akita have all been scrutinized for “aggression tendencies.”Why single out a specific type of animal when any dog can be conditioned and trained to attack or fight? Have you seen a dog officer of the law? (Who are amazing, by the way.)
In my experience as a rescuer of 100s of dogs when I was the director of an animal sanctuary, I’ve seen Chihuahuas that are considerably more aggressive than any Rottweiler or bully breed I’ve been around. The point is, NO breed should be banned.
States for BSL
There are currently between 20-30 states with statewide BSL. More than 700 US cities have breed-specific laws.
States Against BSL
The following 17 states prohibit their municipalities from passing breed-specific laws: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Massachusetts, Nevada, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Utah, and South Dakota.
(Note: Some states have both due to having the capability to “grandfather in” laws or states that only have some areas/counties supporting BSL.)
I know how much pet guardians love PetSmart. I did, too, before I became aware of the following…
Their dog Day Camp program includes this rule in its requirements for your dog to be able to attend:
“Furthermore, for the safety of all animals and associates, we cannot accept dogs of the “bully breed” classification or wolves/wolf hybrids, including American Pit Bull Terriers, Miniature Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Bull Dogs, Bull Terriers or mixed breeds that have the appearance or characteristics of one of these breeds. At the discretion of PetSmart, some pets may not be permitted.” – PetSmart
They’ve drunk the water so many others have. The good news is this quote by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA):
Keep reading for what YOU can do to stop the ignorance of BSL.
Training and Raising Dog Fight Victims
Extreme TLC (tender, loving care) needs to be given to any victim of dog fighting and usually takes professionals to unravel the programming that has taken place.
Since humane organizations generally accompany law enforcement to dogfighting raids, they have the opportunity to transport victims to the best of the best environments for these sweet dogs to have a chance to live the rest of their lives in peace.
Best Friends Animal Society is one of these lifesavers. When the former professional football player, Michael Vick, had his property raided where he had been sadistically abusing, raising, and fighting dogs, BFAS was able to receive 22 of the worst cases of the precious bully breeds.
Not surprisingly to us, all but two of the dogs were adopted, and some even live as therapy dogs today. The two dogs that weren’t adopted needed to live their lives at the incredible animal society.
One of them, Lucas, was Vick’s “Grand Champion” who “blossomed at Best Friends” and died in 2013. The other, Meryl, is “healing and blossoming” as well. All 22 of them are known as “The Vicktory Dogs.” Watch their award-winning documentary “The Champions” to be uplifted.
Note: There are updates on what Vick is doing now, but the best part of the web page was the ASPCA advertisement asking for a monthly gift.
I encourage you to read details about Vick’s dogfighting operation called Bad Newz kennels and form your own opinion of the infamous animal abuser… who would never be where he is today had he not been a professional athlete.
Why Don’t Most Cases Come to Light Even If Dog Fighting Is so Widespread?
The back channels and cloaks of secrecy dog fighters use make it extremely difficult to reveal their illegal activities. Law enforcement gets frustrated over the predicament and reaches out to those in the community to be on guard to find offenders.
Even when individuals or organizations are discovered, it takes meticulous and organized work to bring them to justice. Often, their stories also get lost in our culture, which prefers showing the latest murders over everything else.
What Can I Do to Help Stop Dogfighting?
Let’s get one thing straight: It’s up to you and me to stop these sub-humans from fighting dogs against each other. Law enforcement usually only hears about dogfighting rings – large or small – because one or more individuals tell them about it. Recognize your importance and move forward:
Look for Signs of Dog Fighting
A large number of kenneled dogs or dogs confined to a basement or garage
Bully breeds with body or facial scars or open wounds
- Scheduled fight or dog information written down (size, breed, etc.)
- Physical or digitalized ledgers (to organize bets, dog information, etc.)
- Veterinary supplies/instruments and/or prescriptions
- Chains attached to the ground (indoors or outdoors)
- Poles and treadmills
- Outdoor “pits” (any area that’s contained and roped off in some manner)
- A barn or abandoned building that no one is allowed to go into
There’s More You Can Do
- Share this article.
- Use the hashtag #NoBullyBreedBan on social media whenever possible.
- Contact your local and state officials to let them know you don’t support BSL and that you want stricter laws and punishments for dogfighting offenders.
- Visit the BFAS website and click on “End breed restrictions” to see how you can get involved.
- Report it! There is a $5,000 reward for reporting dog fighting to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Google “HSUS report dog fighting,” and a pdf document will explain how.
- ADOPT A BULLY BREED! They are known to be some of the most loyal, affectionate, and gentle dogs that exist. It’s estimated that 1 million a year are euthanized, largely due to the stigma, and they desperately need loving homes.
Is Dog Fighting Illegal?
Yes, dog fighting is illegal in most countries, including the United States. It is considered a serious crime and carries severe penalties, including imprisonment and fines.
Where Is Dog Fighting Legal?
Japan, Honduras, Albania, Afghanistan, and Russia are just five that are known for it.
You learned what dogfighting really is, why it happens, and what to look for to bring these freak shows down. Take it upon yourself to work in tandem with the authorities or research the subject and give a speech at your local high school. Talk about it to anyone you can.
Too often, with such convoluted situations, there’s nothing we can do, but this isn’t one of those times. So roll your sleeves up. And start fighting for the dogs!