Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Humane Society Links Vick & Garrett

This Op-Ed was published today in the Record and is reprinted in its entirety with permission from the Humane Society Legislative Fund.
Putting more bite into animal-cruelty legislation

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


ATLANTA FALCONS quarterback Michael Vick has pleaded guilty to federal dog-fighting charges, but one verdict was already in: America has no tolerance for the cruel and degrading spectacle of dog fighting.

Readers may wonder, then, why Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, was one of about three dozen lawmakers who recently sided with dog-fighting interests. Garrett voted in March against legislation to upgrade penalties for illegal transportation of fighting dogs -- the very crime Vick was charged with -- and he was the only member of Congress from the northeast United States who took that position.

The vast majority of members of Congress supported the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act to put a stop to precisely the type of behavior that Vick admitted to -- participation in a multi-state dog-fighting network. This anti-crime legislation was backed by animal welfare groups, the poultry industry and more than 400 law enforcement agencies. It was approved by 368 of Garrett's House colleagues -- 215 Democrats and 153 Republicans -- before passing the Senate unanimously and being signed into law by President Bush in May.

Garrett, however, apparently preferred to give dog fighters and cock fighters a free pass, rather than strengthen the federal government's enforcement of laws to combat animal fighting. Never mind that dog fighting and cock fighting are both the equivalent of felony offenses in New Jersey. Never mind that the illegal transport of birds for cock fighting has been linked to deadly diseases such as bird flu and exotic Newcastle, threatening public health and the poultry industry.

Animal fighting not only fosters unspeakable cruelty to animals, but also spawns other criminal activity, such as narcotics traffic, illegal gambling, public corruption and violence toward people. When animal fighters can earn tens of thousands of dollars wagering on a single fight, a slap on the wrist is considered just a cost of doing business.

Closer to eradication

The new law brings us one big step closer to eradicating the dog fighting and cock fighting industries, and that goal cannot be achieved too soon.

Ironically, the new federal law against animal fighting was enacted just after the crimes had been committed by Vick and his co-defendants, and they narrowly escaped the imposition of even more onerous penalties. Federal prosecutors have delivered some felony charges against Vick by invoking the federal Travel Act and conspiracy in their first charge. But the second and third charges in the indictment are misdemeanor charges relating to the federal animal fighting law -- penalties that Garrett opposed.

With dog fighting making national headlines, new legislation has been introduced in Congress to crack down on this underground criminal network even further.

In New Jersey, not only is dog fighting the equivalent of a felony, but possession of dogs for fighting purposes and being a spectator at a dog fight also carry felony-level penalties. In some states, however, it is still legal to possess fighting dogs and to attend a dog fight. The new legislation would make these activities illegal nationwide.
Of the 435 congressional districts in the nation, the 5th District has more members of the Humane Society of the United States than all but five districts. Garrett's opposition to the most modest animal welfare reforms, especially in light of the humane-minded constituency he represents, is just perplexing. It's not too late for him to turn around his record, and take a stand to help protect animals from needless cruelty.

Michael Markarian is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, on the Web at

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