Friday, August 17, 2007

Lawmakers must honor Otter?s get-tough call on dog fighting

One benefit has emerged from NFL superstar Michael Vick's arrest on charges of promoting savage dog fighting. Americans now are grimly aware of the barbaric subculture that profits from the pain, suffering and death of dogs trained to kill.

Ghastly details of Vick's off-field career have even moved Idaho Gov. Butch Otter to change the state's dog fighting law to a felony from a misdemeanor. It's some source of embarrassment that Idaho and Wyoming are the only states that treat dog fighting as a misdemeanor. Also, Idaho, Georgia and Nevada allow dogs to be kept legally for fighting.

Idaho's political explanations for going light on dog fighting is a) cases are rare in the state, and b) ranchers who dictate so much of Idaho's legislative decisions are suspicious of anything pressed by the Humane Society to protect animals.

However, video images from Vick's dog fights as well as verbal descriptions of wounded, exhausted dogs ordered to be killed by electrocution, hanging, shooting or drowning are so graphic that no politician with ambitions of a long public career would oppose tougher penalties.

While at it, legislators ought to tack on to Otter's proposed felony penalty for promoters a felony penalty for spectators of dog fights. Scaring off audiences would help dry up this cruel blood sport.

Making Idaho hostile to dog fighting would remove the state from the list of semi-friendly venues for dog fighting promoters, who are suspected of staging events without interference.

With a felony law on the books, and the governor's concerns influencing this legislation, law enforcement would have a new reason, if it needed one, to ramp up its awareness of possible dog fights.

Ancillary crimes also are usually associated with dog fighting—drugs and gambling, to name two, and often the presence of children at the bloody matches. Clearly, parents who allow this are contributing to the delinquency of minors.

The breeding and training of dogs to kill and maim other canines can pose a menace to the community. If these dogs are paroled to owners as pets, they sometimes attack innocent bystanders in neighborhoods, with sometimes-fatal consequences.

Vick has until today to decide whether to face a jury or cop a plea on the charges.

Idaho can retain its fiercely independent nature without condoning ruthless, sadistic and pitiless dog fights that play to the savage and bloodthirsty worst in human nature. When the Legislature convenes next January, it should waste no time in letting the rest of the country know that dog fighting is finally dog-gone away in Idaho.

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