Last September, the NYS Legislature finally saw fit to make attending an animal fight a misdemeanor (prior to this, it was a zero-penalty violation). Alas, though, it is but a Class B, three month infraction (just one year if second offense). However, if sufficient evidence exists that cash changed hands (gambling, primarily), the penalty can increase to one year. Why this discrepancy? Should it make any difference if one comes merely for the entertainment? What kind of a person enjoys watching brutally-trained dogs forced to destroy each other? What kind of a person applauds the victor hovering over his battered, blood-soaked, and sometimes lifeless rival? What kind of a person revels in the public execution of the loser at the hands of his owner (remember, Michael Vick confessed to personally killing – hanging, drowning, electrocuting – his underperformers)?
There is, still, a larger, more significant discrepancy between how the law treats spectators and the fighters themselves. The people responsible for staging animal fights are subject to a felony charge carrying a four year prison sentence. On this, New York is to be commended. But some basic logic is in order. Dogfighting exists either as a business for profit or as a street-level matter of reputations. The more professional operations are entirely sustained by admission and wagering. In other words, by the spectator. In the cruder neighborhood form, dogs act as expendable surrogates for men pursuing upward social mobility. Often gang-related, this back-alley savagery would lack any meaning without bystanders to attest. Clearly, the fans, betting or not, fuel the evil, and the industry implodes in their absence.
Senator John DeFrancisco, a sponsor of New York’s recent amendment, acknowledged the simple truth when he said (The Post-Standard, 8/4/11), “Without spectators, the events would not happen.” Then why three months? The HSUS currently ranks our state 48th in anti-dogfighting legislation; 28 other states have already made spectating a felony. New York has much work to do.
Dogfighting is sadism defined, a generally-accepted societal wrong that could be eliminated in our lifetime. But why do we insist on waging this battle with one hand tied? On this, I confess bemusement. Is there a politically important lobby that must be appeased? If not, but rather an indisposition to further clog courts and cells, then I ask: What is our justice system for if not to protect the most vulnerable among us from wanton cruelty? The miscreants mired in this cesspool, be they owners, trainers, fighters, or onlookers, are not otherwise kind, upstanding citizens simply allowing dogs to be dogs. Each, in fact, is a sadist, perhaps the worst thing we can say about a fellow human being, and should be punished accordingly. The pit (bullring) is the modern day Colosseum, bloodlust and all.