County steps up effort to end dog fighting
By Ramsey Harris
Ever since Michael Vick’s conviction last year, dog fighting has moved to the forefront of the American consciousness. Here in Georgia, where Vick played football, state lawmakers, local law enforcement and animal rights activists have stepped up efforts to eradicate the blood sport.
“I truly believe Michael Vick let the cat out of the bag on this, but dog fighting has been a problem for a long time in this state.” says Madison’s animal control officer Cindy Wiemann.
It’s about to get a lot tougher for dog fighters to train fighting dogs or to host fights in Morgan County, thanks to a new tip line and cash incentives for tipsters. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has offered a $5,000 reward for tips on dog fighting that lead to an arrest and conviction.
When the HSUS announced their initiative at a press conference last Thursday, the Humane Society of Morgan County (HSMC) decided to expand on this reward program, offering an additional $1,000 reward for tips that directly result in an arrest and conviction in Morgan County.
“Maybe if dog fighters have to fear that their friends or family will turn them in for a cash reward, it will be a little more uncomfortable for them to continue doing business as usual, says Kathleen Miller, vice president of the HSMC.
Miller suspects that dog fighting may be a problem in Morgan County because of the amount of pit bull activity here. “We get a lot of pit bulls for adoption. I see a lot of pit bulls on chains in yards, where the conditions aren’t that good,” she says.
Wiemann knows from personal experience that some level of dog fighting happens here. In 2000, the animal control officer received an anonymous call about a street dogfight in Madison. The “bait dog” used in that particular fight was severely injured with gaping wounds on his neck and chest. Wiemann adopted the bait dog, a chow she later named “Champ,” and nursed him back to health.
While the animal control officer is certain that unorganized dogfights do periodically take place in Morgan Country, she’s not sure whether large-scale organized dogfights are hosted here.
According to Sheriff Robert Markley, several years ago he was notified that a dogfight was being organized in Morgan County, but at the last minute it was moved to Newton County. That dogfight resulted in approximately 30 arrests, Markley recalls.
“That’s the thing about these organized dog fights, they wait until the last minute to decide where they’re going to be. They think they can avoid the police that way,” says Markley.
Wiemann doubts that law-abiding citizens will ever be able to detect an organized dogfight, but there are ways to determine if a neighbor is involved in the illegal activity. “If somebody has 15 pit bulls chained up in the woods, that is not a good sign,” says Wiemann. “If you see pit bulls with scars, multiple bite wounds on their head, chest and front legs, that’s a sign that those dogs are being used in dogfights.”
Wiemann urges citizens to contact local law enforcement if they suspect dog fighting. There is a tip line that people should call if they would like to collect the reward money. By calling 877.TIP.HSUS, callers will be connected to a private investigation department hired by the HSUS. If someone in Morgan County gives a tip that leads to a charge of dog fighting, and the sheriff can substantiate the claim that their call lead to conviction, then the tipster will receive the $6,000 cash reward.
According to Wiemann, the Georgia Sheriff’s Association is also considering a $5,000 reward for tips leading to an arrest in Georgia. If that incentive is passed, then a Morgan County tipster could earn $11,000 for turning in a dog fighter.
“I think this reward money is going to make a word of difference,” says Wiemann. In addition to the stepped-up incentives for informants, there will soon be stricter laws on the books against dog fighting in Georgia. In the past, it was actually legal for spectators to attend dog fights, so it was almost impossible for law enforcement to punish dog fighters, because when they raided organized fights, everyone present would claim to merely be spectating.
If passed, Georgia House Bill 301 will rectify this problem. The bill would make spectating at a dogfight a high and aggravated misdemeanor. The second offence would be a felony, according to Cherly McAuliffe, Georgia director of the HSUS.
“This bill is nothing new,” says McAuliffe. “It was proposed in 2005, however it didn’t get real publicity until the Michael Vick case. This has been a problem in Georgia for a long time.”
Ever since Vick’s arrest, there has only been one large-scale organized dog fighting crime ring arrest in Georgia, but law enforcement officials think that number will soon increase thanks to improved regulations and reward incentives.
“Dog fighting is everywhere, and if it’s going on here, we want to know about it,” says Miller.