Putting An End To Animal Fighting - New Hampshire, HB 605-FN
Updated: Jun 13, 2019
Experts describe dog fighting as one of the most heinous forms of animal cruelty, which has ties to human violence, drug and weapon crimes. In the world of animal fighting, dogs, roosters, and other animals spend their lives tied up or caged in isolation, only to be released when their turn comes to fight for their lives in a pit or on the streets. What is considered egregious to many, is a blood sport to criminals; a form of income, entertainment, and a method to gain prestige. And it is a blood sport that could be happening in your very own neighborhood.
It is estimated that there are over 100,000 animal fighters in the United States and that tens of thousands of dogs suffer from it across the nation each year, despite being illegal in every state.
One might ask, 'If animal fighting is so prevalent in the US, and is occurring in New Hampshire, how is it that more cases regarding animal fighting haven't been prosecuted here?'
That is an excellent question, which highlights a dire problem, and it is HB 605-FN that proposes a potential solution.
"As an FBI agent working 16 years in violent crime and gang investigations, some of the worst and most heinous investigations that I've ever investigated have involved dog fighting."
-Tim Ferguson, FBI
Supervisory Special Agent
Animal Fighting Is A Highly Secretive, Organized Crime
Animal fighting is an underground, well-funded and well-informed industry, making it extremely difficult for law enforcement to infiltrate.
Animal fighters gamble thousands, sometimes hundreds of thousands per fight. Fighters also breed their dogs, especially those who win; creating 'champion bloodlines' and making their offspring worth thousands each. Those funds are not spent on the housing of the animals, who are usually kept in basements, storage buildings or chained up in backyards. The funds are used for the furtherance of animal fighting, and to keep the industry guarded in secrecy, including multiple properties, video surveillance and even the recruitment of motorcycle and other gang members for security.
Fighters do not breed, train, nor keep their animals where fights take place. Not only do they often relocate their animals, but it is common for fighters to change the location of a fight multiple times while in route to the event.
Lieutenant Alan Borgal, director of law enforcement with the Animal Rescue League of Boston, reported that there is a long history of dog fighting in New England.
Lt. Borgal has received tips and word of dog fighting in New Hampshire, but the fighters switch cars, move and transport the dogs too quickly for law enforcement to mount an effective response under current law.
Animal fighting cases are often complex and connected to other organized and violent crimes. The successful prosecution of most animal fighting cases requires several months of investigative work, and often the coordinated efforts of multiple experts, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Agriculture, the Drug Enforcement Administration, local law enforcement, animal cruelty investigators and humane societies. Less common are the arrests based on the highly unusual and fortune tip of a fight location occurring at the perfect time and place for law enforcement to arrive.
Ties Between Animal Fighting, Human Violence, and Other Crimes
Animal fighting poses a threat to human safety and communities due to its links to other crimes, such as those listed below:
Assault and Homicide
Childhood Exposure to Violence
Intentional Harm and Torture of Animals
Gang-Related Violence, Recruitment of Juveniles
Unenforceable NH Animal Fighting Laws Prevent Arrest and Prosecution
According to current NH law, the possession, breeding or training of any animal with the use or intent to use them for animal fighting is a class B felony [RSA 644:8-a, I]. It is also a class B felony to be present at any place where an animal fight is being prepared for, or to be present at, or to contribute to such an exhibition [644:8-a, II].
Current law is highly reliant on catching someone in the act of fighting animals or training them to fight at a specific time and place. Having evidence that someone is 'present' 'prepared for' or 'contributed to' a fight, requires that the animals are there, along with evidence that they're just about to, in the process of or already fought. With criminals often breeding, training, 'housing' and fighting their animals all in different locations and constantly moving them, finding the animals or arriving on the scene during training or a fight is extremely challenging, often making current law unenforceable.
NH's current unenforceable laws prevent the prosecution of animal fighting cases; contributing to the misconception that the crime doesn't occur in our state.
Solutions Proposed By House Bill HB 605-FN
HB 605-FN (as introduced) does the following:
1. Prohibits the offer to sell, the sale, loan or export of an animal with the intent for use in animal fighting [HB 605-FN, 644:8-a, I].
This enhances current law, which prohibits the breeding of dogs intended for animal fighting, by also banning the sale or transfer of them. This allows law enforcement to take action when discovering evidence of a sale, loan, transfer, or sales ads created by an animal fighting breeder. Proof of intent for dogs to be used for fighting would be documentation of the dogs 'fighting bloodlines,' or communications regarding fighting between the breeder and potential buyers, or other fighters.
2. Prohibits the possession, purchase, manufacture, transfer, or sale of animal fighting paraphernalia with the intent to engage in, promote or facilitate animal fighting [HB 605-FN, 644:8-a, III (a)].
The bill additionally includes examples of animal fighting paraphernalia [HB 605-FN, 644:8-a, III (b)], and requirements for determining its intended use or use in animal fighting, including consideration of the totality of the scene, as well as direct and circumstantial evidence [HB 605-FN, 644:8-a, III (c)].
With fighters constantly relocating their animals and fight locations, fighting paraphernalia is often found, but the animals and fights are not. HB 605-FN allows for more effective enforcement by granting officials the ability to make an arrest when fighting paraphernalia is found, along with supporting evidence within the totality of the scene that reasonably indicates intent for its use in animal fighting. This is opposed to current law that requires the nearly impossible task of catching someone in the act of fighting their animals.
3. Sets a minimum 5-year ban on future animal ownership for those convicted of animal fighting, makes any animal(s) owned in violation of that law subject to immediate forfeiture and sets a $1,000 fine per animal kept in violation.
This helps to prevent perpetual acts of animal violence, as well as the long-term sheltering of animal victims seized as part of such cases (similar to SB 77-FN).
Animal Fighting Paraphernalia
Fighting Pit: Often constructed out of plywood or chain-link fencing. They're usually stained with blood and have ‘scratch lines’ drawn on the opposite corners, which the dogs are held behind before they're released to fight. These are most often used by professional fighters as opposed to 'street fighters.'
Unprescribed Veterinary Medication or illegal drugs: Fighting dogs are commonly given steroids to enhance muscle mass and encourage aggressiveness, and antibiotics to prevent infection. Some dogs are also injected with epinephrine (adrenaline), methamphetamine, or cocaine to increase fighting drive and tenacity, which sometimes causes the death of the dogs due to heat exhaustion, kidney or heart failure.
Springpole / Spring Pole: Knotted rope, tire or other material suspended by a beam or tree branch, created for a dog to bite and hold on to, which strengthens the neck and jaw muscles. This puts an immense amount of pressure on the teeth, jaw, and neck, and can lead to nerve damage, as well as broken and lost teeth.
Dog fighting Publications: Underground flyers and/or magazines which keep track of winning dogs, match results, stats, and 'bloodlines.'
Breaking Sticks: Used to pry dogs’ jaws open, to end or prolong a fight. They're pointed on one end, flat on the other end, and usually bloodstained.
Gaffs (razor-sharp steel blades): Resembles 3-inch-long, curved ice picks, and are attached to the spurs of cocks or game fowl to inflict more damage.
Jenny Mill / Cat Mill: This equipment has a rotating center shaft with spokes projecting out from that center. A small bait animal, such as a rabbit or cat, is tied to one of the spokes. The dog is harnessed to a spoke behind the animal and provoked to chase the bait. This encourages prey drive and conditions the dog.
Bait Animals: Although not considered 'paraphernalia,' bait animals are commonly used in dogfighting. Trainers will render a weaker dog or another animal defenseless and throw them into a pit or tie them to a jenny mill or tree, and then force their fighting dogs to attack. Trainers do this to teach their dogs to manipulate and bite other animals with a low risk of harm to themselves. Multiple fight dogs are often unleashed on bait animals at a time to create competition and encourage more aggression.
Scene Totality and Differentiating Between 'Normal Use' and Use In Animal Fighting
People may possess the above equipment for legitimate purposes. For instance, a dog owner or trainer may have a springpole for playtime, to help high-energy dogs exert excess energy, or to help them learn how to release objects they have ahold of on command and in a controlled environment.
However, HB 605-FN requires consideration of the totality of a scene upon finding such equipment, along with all direct and circumstantial evidence to determine the intended or current use of it, which is consistent with efficient investigative approaches for most crimes.
Those manufacturing, selling, or in possession of paraphernalia, who use it for animal fighting, will also often have all or a combination of some of the following, of which investigators will take into consideration:
Prior convictions under federal or state law relating to animal fighting
Communications with other animal fighters for the facilitation or furtherance of animal fighting
Instructions on how to use equipment for animal fighting
Animal fighting trophies or awards
Videos, pictures or digital evidence of animal fights
Bloodstained items or blood splats on their property or equipment
Blood, bones or decomposing bodies of fighting or bait animals
Possession of animals who have fresh wounds or scars in various stages of healing, on the head, chest, and legs.
'Electric chairs' used to kill dogs who don't win fights
Cocaine, narcotics or other illegal drugs
Unlawful possession of weapons
An innocent dog owner or legitimate trainer may have a springpole in their backyard, but they likely won't have blood and decomposing bodies or bones of dogs, cats, bunnies, or other bait animals in the yard with it. They also likely will not have had communications with fighters to facilitate fighting, nor written instructions on how to use a springpole to train their dogs to fight.
To prevent the passing of HB 605-FN, despite the fact that officials are capable of distinguishing between legitimate use of such equipment and its use in animal fighting, is not justifiable. The time has come to put an end to this heinous bloodsport - It's time to put enforceable laws in place, for the sake of the animals and residents of New Hampshire, and throughout the nation.
“We frequently find discarded, dead dogs that have multiple bite wounds. They die from infection, kidney failure, or go into shock from blood loss. They die horrible, cold, lonely deaths.”
-Terry Mills, ASPCA
Director of Blood Sports Investigations
HB 605-FN was passed by the House and the Senate (see 'Updates' below for details), it will soon head to the Governor for signature.
1. You may contact Governor Sununu's office and urge his signature and adoption of the bill.
Governor Sununu's office: 603-271-2121
2. Make a thank you call to primary sponsor of HB 605-FN, Representative Katherine Rogers (Merrimack-Dist 28), as well as Representative Nancy Murphy (Hillsborough-Dist 21) who spoke informatively and concisely in support of HB 605-FN on the House Floor, and Representative Douglas Lay (Cheshire-Dist 9) who also spoke briefly in support of the bill.
March 13, 2019: HB 605-FN was passed by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee by a vote of 13-7. Roll call here.
March 19, 2019: Without justification, House Representative Howard Pearl (Merrimack - District 26) motioned to Table (kill) HB 605-FN on the House floor; the motion failed by a division vote of 140-188. The House then voted to pass HB 605-FN by a vote of 215-124.
May 14, 2019: The Senate Judiciary Committee passed HB 605-FN by a vote of 4-1 on May 14th, with Senator Harold French (R- Franklin) being only the legislator on the committee to vote against the bill. The Senate Judiciary Committee also voted to adopt an amendment [2019-1953s] to HB 605-FN, clarifying the prohibited unprescribed medication, when used or intended to be used for animal fighting, includes (but is not limited to) 'unprescribed anabolic steroids, unprescribed anti-inflammatory steroids, and unprescribed antibiotics,' in the place of the bill's language as introduced, which simply stated 'unprescribed veterinary medicine'.
May 30, 2019: The Senate passed HB 605-FN as amended [1953s] via a voice vote (details of the amendment shown above)
June 13, 2019: The House concurred with the Senate's version of the bill [1953s] via voice vote, and the bill will soon head to the Governor's desk for signature and official adoption.
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United States Department of Justice, Facebook Live Interview, April 23, 2018, https://www.facebook.com/DOJ/videos/10156196435784030/?hc_ref=ARS6NyxTMge_2TkgdzwpTRPxCYmYwDPSOch9EJBOpq2JYUPHOyXn_ttuRRQxnQRvatI, Last visited March 2019;
'Dogfighting FAQ,' ASPCAPro, https://www.aspcapro.org/resource/disaster-cruelty-animal-cruelty-animal-fighting/dogfighting-faq, Last visited March 2019;
Cristela Guerra, 'Learning about dog fighting in order to stop it,' Globe Staff, January 03, 2017, https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2017/01/03/the-language-blood-sports/vgVVcI3ffTcghd473QL9GI/story.html, Last visited March 2019;
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