Georgia Governor Signs Dog Fighting Bill

 Update May 10, 2008 Governor Sonny Perdue has now signed this bill into law.

Update March 28, 2008: The Georgia House voted overwhelmingly to accept the Senate substitute described in our earlier report below. The Georgia Senate then passed uanimously the bill as amended H.B. 301. The bill is now on Governor Sonny Perdue’s desk for signature. 

Update March 12, 2008: The Georgia Senate has passed unanimously a substitute bill to expand the authority of law enforcement to stop dog fighting. The bill, H.B. 301, now goes back to the House for approval of the Senate substitute.

The bill initially passed the House in January.] 

This is not as strong a bill as proposed last year by Sen. Chip Rogers. That bill, S.B. 16, also passed the Senate.

This bill, H.B. 301, which was sponsored in the House by Rep. Bobby Reese and this year by Sen. Chip Rogers in the Senate, will make it illegal to own, possess, transport, or sell dogs for fighting, advertise or promote dog fighting, cause dogs to fight, gamble on dog fighting, or allow dog fighting on your premises or under your control.

In effect, the new law would make illegal many aspects of dog fighting. Currently, Georgia has a fairly weak dog fighting law. And that’s probably overstating it. The current law basically limits any prosecution for dog fighting to those caught in the act of actually goading or allowing dogs to fight. O.C.G.A. § 16-12-37

Under H.B. 301 these crimes would be a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine on the first offense and up to 10 years in prison and a $15,000 fine on the second and subsequent offenses.

The new bill would also make it a misdemeanor for the first offense of attending a dog fight but a felony for second and subsequent offenses.

There would be no ban on breeding dogs for fighting, baiting or possessing dog fighting paraphernalia.

Dogs used for fighting may be seized and impounded for fighting and must be spayed/neutered; if the owner is convicted of a violation of the dog fighting law, then he or she is responsible for the costs of spay/neuter.

The version passed by the House did not include the mandatory spay/neuter requirement or make it a crime to advertise or promote dog fighting. It is these changes by the Senate that the House must now approve.

Specifics of the proposed dog fighting bill

Sen. Rogers sponsored the inital bill, S.B. 16, last year after a dog trained to fight attacked a young boy, requiring the child to undergo 8 surgeries on his face.

That bill was more comprehensive than H.B. 301. It would have held accountable owners, breeders, trainers, transporters, sellers or purchasers of fighting dogs. The law would have made it a felony for anyone to (1) provoke, harass, or encourage a dog with another animal for the specific purpose of training a dog for or causing a dog to engage in fighting (also known as baiting); (2) train, purchase, sell, transport, transfer, breed, or equip any dog for baiting or dog fighting activity; (3) possess dogs for baiting or fighting, (4) possess dog fighting paraphernalia, (5) rent, obtain or make available any property or location for the purpose of dogfighting, (6) organize, facilitate, conduct, referee, promote, advertise, sponsor, charge admission for or serve as the stakeholder for any dog fighting or baiting activity, (7) bet, gamble or encourage anyone else to do so on any baiting or dog fighting activity, (8) attend a dog fight.

The sentences under S.B. 16 would have been the same as the current bill except that under S.B. 16 the court could have prohibited the offender from owning or possessing any dog or having a dog on his property during the term of his sentence.

Click here for a copy of the latest version of H.B. 301.

Raids in recent years revealed widespread dog fighting operations in Georgia

There have been several raids in recent years in Georgia in the effort to stop dog fighting, including one in Newton County in January, 2004 in which authorities interrupted a well-attended dog fight in progress. But authorities have had a difficult time prosecuting anyone under the current law. At the time he introduced SB 16, Sen. Rogers noted there was only one person actually in jail in Georgia for dogfighting.

In the Newton County raid police arrested 123 people who had gathered at a farmhouse for a dog fight. The winner-take-all pot was $50,000.  The dog fighting ring was set up in the front room of the house. There was blood everywhere, on the walls, the carpet. One dog was dead at the side of the "ring". Another was so badly injured it was later euthanized.  Thirteen other dogs were taken to animal control facilities.

The charges filed included felony cruelty to animals, dog fighting and commercial gambling.

Authorities also seized guns, cars, dog fighting magazines, several kilograms of marijuana and cocaine and more than $140,000. There were four trophies found that had been engraved with the date of the fight.

Also in 2007 a Cobb County grand jury indicted people for dog fighting following a January, 2006 raid.  Authorities at that time found a dog fighting pit in a garage of a home. There was blood everywhere. Eleven adult dogs and 4 puppies were found at the scene. The dogs were scarred and also underweight and malnourished.

Police found hypodermic needles and injectable antibiotics as well as equipment for training dogs to fight.

In March, 2007 in Laurens County, Georgia sheriff’s deputies arrested 15 men suspected of staging dogfights. They were found at a residence behind which was a dog fighting pen and a number of dogs. In addition to dog fighting, it is hoped they can be charged with animal cruelty and gambling.

Deputies found 31 dogs at the scene. The dogs were taken to the county animal control shelter.  Many of the dogs are females used for breeding. The dogs were described as "very thin" and in generally poor condition. The male dogs had wounds from fighting on their heads, faces, shoulders and front legs.

The sheriff’s department reported they have been working for 7 years to have enough evidence to make an arrest for dogfighting. These are the first arrests for the blood sport in Laurens County.

There have been at least 6 other incidents in Georgia this year of suspected dog fighting in which dogs were seized and charges were filed. 

The first arrests for dog fighting were made in Oglethorpe County in the fall, 2006. Authorities raided a house where a dog fight was taking place. Several men fled as law enforcement approached, but eventually 6 were arrested for dog fighting and animal cruelty. Several trucks filled with cages containing dogs were found at the scene.  Two dogs that had been fighting were injured so badly they were euthanized.

There is no question through these and other arrests in the past few years, many Georgia counties are trying to crack down on dog fighting.

Though the proposed fines are not large in view of the purses that can be won in a dog fight and the bill lacks a forfeiture provision, the new dog fighting law will give law enforcement far more tools than they have now to end this horrific blood sport.