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Update: Kentucky Bill Seeks To Close Loophole In Dogfighting Law – But It Needs Your Support

Update: Kentucky Bill Seeks To Close Loophole In Dogfighting Law – But It Needs Your Support

***Important Update 2/27/16****

As BarkPost reported below on the previous update for Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), SB 14 with the committee substitution language turned what was originally an effective piece of legislation into one that is detrimental and could make the loophole in Kentucky’s dogfighting law even larger.

On Thursday, February 25th, the Senate unanimously passed (36-0) SB 14 with the committee substitution. Now, SB 14 with the committee substitution is on its way to the House and unfortunately, it seems as if it’s expected to pass there as well with the committee substitution.

Senator Jimmy Hidgon, one of the Senators who disappointingly voted for SB 14 with the committee substitution to pass on Thursday, informed BarkPost:

“Legislators are pulled in many directions on this. Most every legislator you talk to will want this passed.”

It cannot be overstated that SB 14 with the committee substitution is a bad piece of legislation, one that could essentially make dogfighting legal by leaving loopholes open for “accredited national organizations” to be exempt from being prosecuted for owning, possessing, keeping, breeding, training, selling or transferring a dog for the “primary” purpose of dogfighting.

In fact, SB 14 with the committee substitution is so detrimental that the animal welfare community, who fervently supported SB 14 as originally filed on January 6th, has come out publicly stating that they do not support SB 14 with the committee substitution.

“UNITED Against Dog-Fighting (UAD-F) cannot support SB 14 as amended by the Senate Agriculture Committee, and passed by the full senate on February 25th. Our position is based on the opinions expressed by the Commonwealth’s prosecutors who tell us that the amendment placed on the original bill will NOT accomplish the goal that the members of UAD-F have worked and will continue to work toward — to make it illegal in KY, as it already is in every other state in the country to own, breed, train and sell dogs for dog-fighting purposes. We have been advised that the amended version of SB 14 may actually encourage that horror to continue in our state and even weaken some parts of the existing animal protection legislation in effect since 1984. Our sincere hope is that the language that was added to the original SB 14 will be corrected in our House of Representatives — that they will successfully pass the corrected version and return it to the Senate for approval, and that the Senate will concur with no additional amendments. “

We know that legislation can be a difficult and overwhelming thing to understand so BarkPost has summed up below the main points of SB 14, both as originally filled (good legislation), and as it is now with the committee substitution (bad legislation). For anyone who wants to share this information with those who live in Kentucky, this is a straight–forward and to the point message.

SB 14 as originally filed on January 6th: effective legislation against activities tied to dogfighting.

SB 14 with committee substitution language: detrimental legislation which can make the loophole in Kentucky’s dogfighting law even bigger.

What Can I Do Now?

Call 1-800-372-7181 and ask to leave a message for ALL Representatives to “amend SB 14 to remove committee substitution language.”

Kentucky’s Legislative Message Center (phone number provided above) is available to take calls Monday — Thursday from 7am to 11pm and Fridays from 7am to 6pm.

***End of Update from 2/27/16***

***Important Update 2/25/16****

As of Tuesday, February 23rd, the Agriculture Committee voted to pass Senate Bill 14 (SB 14) with it now going to Kentucky’s Senate for vote today. As previously written below, those who were concerned about animal welfare were encouraging calls to Kentucky Senators to voice their support for SB 14, however, with a committee substitution to SB 14 at the last minute, SB 14 now includes detrimental language that can actually make the loophole in Kentucky’s dogfighting law even bigger.

For ease of understanding as to why this new language is detrimental, some of the problem language has been highlighted below with capitals and asterisks.

“Activities of animals engaged in hunting, field trials,***AND*** dog training and other activities authorized either by a hunting license or by the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources ***OR SANCTIONED BY THE AMERICAN KENNEL CLUB, THE UNITED KENNEL CLUB OR OTHER ACCREDITED NATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS SHALL NOT CONSTITUTE A VIOLATION OF THIS SECTION.***”

UNITED Against Dogfighting Ky Public Page’s Facebook page shared with its followers why SB 14 with the committee substitutions could be problematic for prosecution.

“Several prosecutors have looked at this language and told us it presents a problem in that it will preclude them ever being able to successfully prosecute cases based on this language. Additionally, some known national organizations breed dogs for dogfighting, so this language could result in the inability to bring charges against the very people who train and breed dogs for dogfighting. There is no clarification on who will sanction these ‘other accredited national organizations.’ While we want to support this Bill, we don’t believe based on the prosecutor’s testimony that we can in good-faith do so. We believe it may be a betrayal to everything we stand for.”

Additionally, the committee substitution of SB 14 now includes new language below which states:

“Any person who knowingly owns, possesses, keeps, breeds, trains, sells, or otherwise transfers a domestic dog from the subspecies Canis lupus familiaris for the primary purpose of that dog being used to fight another domestic dog from the subspecies Canis lupus familiaris for pleasure or profit is guilty of furthering dog fighting.”

In regards to the word “primary” being added by the committee substitution of SB 14, Rob Sanders, the Kenton County Commonwealth’s attorney shared via email:

“I don’t know how we would defeat a claim that the dog’s ‘primary purpose’ wasn’t companionship, protection, or some other purpose the defendant could easily come up with as a defense.”

BarkPost attempted to contact Doug Morgan, the President of the Kentucky Houndsmen Association Inc. (Kentucky Houndsmen), to ask him why the Kentucky Houndsmen did not support the language of SB 14 as filed on January 6th but instead supported the committee substitution. BarkPost was unable to reach Doug for comment.

As this is being voted on today in the Senate, timing is of the essence. For Kentucky residents to express their support for SB 14 as filed on January 6th (not with committee substitions), please call 1-800-372-7181 and respectfully ask the legislative line operator to leave a message for the following legislators for them to amend the bill to remove the committee substitute language from SB 14:

Senate President – Senator Robert Stivers
Senate President Pro Tempore – Senator David P. Givens
Majority Floor Leader – Senator Damon Thayer
Majority Caucus Chair –  Senator Dan Seum
Majority Whip Leader – Senator Jimmy Higdon
Co-Chair of the Agriculture Committee – Senator Paul Hornback

***Original Story***

Kentucky is the only state in the U.S. that by law has not completely outlawed activities tied to dogfighting. Senate Bill 14 (SB 14), as amended on January 6th, 2016, and its sponsors are working to change that in the 2016 Kentucky Legislative Session. In regards to dogfighting in Kentucky, the current law KRS 525.125 states:

(1)  The following persons are guilty of cruelty to animals in the first degree whenever a four-legged animal is caused to fight for pleasure or profit:
(a)  The owner of the animal;
(b)  The owner of the property on which the fight is conducted if the owner knows of the fight;
(c)  Anyone who participates in the organization of the fight.

Because dogfighters must be caught in the act of dogfighting by law enforcement, it is extremely difficult to prosecute dogfighting in the state of Kentucky. It is not uncommon for both those attending the dog fight and the owners of the dogs who are being fought to either leave the property once law enforcement arrives or to not claim the dog who was fighting as their own.

dog-fighting-aspca-10-625x450-1

An overview of SB 14 from the Kentucky Legislature website summarizes that it is seeking to amend KRS 525.125 “to include the owning, possessing, keeping, breeding, training, selling, or transferring of dogs for fighting purposes within the offense of cruelty to animals in the first degree.” This means that owning a dog for the purpose of dogfighting is currently not illegal in Kentucky. SB 14 would effectively make that illegal, along with other activities involved in dogfighting such as breeding, training or selling dogs for that purpose.

Even though Kentucky ranks 50th in the U.S. for animal welfare, it would seem that getting a bill such as SB 14 to pass would be possible without any opposition. And yet some form of this bill – attempting to close the loophole in dogfighting – has come before the Kentucky Legislature in both the 2014 and 2015 sessions and failed to pass.

Rescued from Dogfighting

Speaking to The River City News about HB 154 from the 2015 legislative session, which failed to pass and was similar to SB 14, Speaker of the House Representative Greg Stumbo, one of the sponsors of HB 154, stated that HB 154:

“[S]imply does what every other state in the nation has done in expanding the definition of Class D felony to not only people who engage in dog fighting…but to those who knowingly own, possess, keep, breed, train, or sell animals for that purpose.”

The main opponent of SB 14 is the Kentucky Houndsmen Association Inc. (Kentucky Houndsmen), a group who, as stated on their website:

“[S]erves, but is not limited to, sportsmen in Kentucky who enjoy hunting with hounds. Our primary goal is to protect and preserve the hunting heritage of houndsmen here in Kentucky.”

Dogfighting Victim Rescued

In an open letter to Kentucky legislators, Doug Morgan, President of the Kentucky Houndsmen claims that not only is it not true that Kentucky has the worst animal welfare in the U.S., but that these claims are made specifically in an attempt to work against hunters and farmers.

“As the 2016 legislative session begins, I am writing to you regarding recent statements by the animal rights extremists that yet again the Commonwealth of Kentucky has the worst statutory provisions with respect to the protection of animals from animal cruelty. These statements are incorrect[,] self serving and calculated to advance their agenda to eliminate our heritage with respect to legitimate sports activities with animals as well as animal agriculture.”

Kentucky does, in fact, rank the lowest in animal welfare and has been given this last-place ranking for the past nine years by The Animal Legal Defense Fund, whose mission is “to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system.”

Puppy Victim of Dogfighting

Additionally, the language of SB 14, as amended on January 6, 2016 and as stated below, clearly expresses that this will not harm hunters and has no effect on farmers.

“(3)  Activities of animals engaged in hunting, field trials, and dog training not prohibited by subsection (2) of this section shall not constitute a violation of this section.”

Leland Conway, a NewsRadio 840 WHAS host who recently interviewed Senator Damon Thayer, Majority Floor leader and a sponsor of SB 14, stated on his radio show:

“I always look very suspiciously at pieces of legislation and I looked at this one. I can’t see where this one would be misused. I just can’t…. [A]nd let me tell you something, I’m a hunter, I’m an avid gun owner, I am to the right of the NRA on guns…. I will sniff around pieces of legislation…and I will be the first person to raise the red flag. I don’t see anything in this…bill that makes me say, ‘Geez, this will be used to affront the rights of Kentucky hunters, Kentucky gun owners and Kentucky dog owners who treat their animals well.’ I just don’t see that that’s gonna happen.”

Craig Hoffer, a 57-year old Kentucky resident who has hunted since childhood, expressed his support for SB 14:

“I support the bill because I don’t see any reason why dogfighting should be legal in this state. I’m looking at this bill right now and it does exclude the activities of animals engaged in hunting, field trials, and dog training.”

ASPCA Dogfighting Pit Bull Puppy on a Chain

Rebecca Eaves, founder of The Arrow Fund, a Kentucky rescue group who takes in the most severe neglect and abuse cases, is a fervent supporter of SB 14, traveling to Frankfort, KY to speak with her dog, Frodo, a victim of dogfighting. Rebecca expressed her support for SB 14 to BarkPost.

“The Arrow Fund has rehabilitated a number of victims of the dogfighting industry, including our spokesdog Frodo. The existing Kentucky law prohibiting dogfighting is basically unenforceable. SB 14 adds language to the Kentucky statute that exists in the animal cruelty laws of 49 other states and will give us a key weapon in the escalating war against dogfighting. Kentucky’s weak law encourages and attracts dogfighters and all the unsavory practices associated with this cruel industry such as illegal drugs, illegal weapons, and other forms of violence.”

Rebecca Eaves speaking at Humane Lobby Day in Frankfort, KY with Thom Ham and Frodo, a victim of dogfighting.

Rebecca Eaves speaking at Humane Lobby Day in Frankfort, KY with Thom Ham and Frodo

It is clear that Kentucky residents, including hunters and farmers as well those who actively advocate for animal welfare, do not want Kentucky to continue to be a haven for dogfighters. A bill addressing that loophole continues to come back year after year for that reason.

Dogfighting Bust Pit Bull Puppy on a Chain

This bill is expected to be brought before the Agriculture Committee on Tuesday, February 23rd, for a vote. From there, the bill can either be brought directly to the Senate Floor for a vote or will first go to the Senate Committee before being brought to the Floor for a vote. If it passes in the Senate, it would then go to the House Committee, who would then need to vote for it to pass before it could go to the House Floor for vote. This would be the final step in passing this bill into law.

Because of the opposition faced from the Kentucky Houndsmen as well as certain legislators in Kentucky’s government, it is vital that voices in support of SB 14 be heard prior to Tuesday’s vote in the Agriculture Committee. For Kentucky residents to express their support for SB 14, please call 1-800-372-7181 and respectfully ask the legislative line operator to leave a message for the following legislators to pass SB 14:

Senate President – Senator Robert Stivers
Senate President Pro Tempore – Senator David P. Givens
Majority Floor Leader – Senator Damon Thayer
Majority Caucus Chair –  Senator Dan Seum
Majority Whip Leader – Senator Jimmy Higdon
Co-Chair of the Agriculture Committee – Senator Paul Hornback

Featured image via ASPCA

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