By: Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director, AVMA Governmental Relations Division
As we reflect on our accomplishments in 2014 and look forward to the start of a new Congress, the strides made against animal fighting continue to be a bright spot in AVMA’s work to protect animal welfare.
In 2007, the barbaric nature of animal fighting was thrust into the national spotlight with the arrest of Michael Vick, a football player who was at the height of his NFL career. Since that time, we’ve seen an increase in federal, state and local governments taking a stand to combat animal fighting and other forms of animal cruelty.
This year, the Farm Bill that President Obama signed into law included language that makes it a federal crime under the Animal Welfare Act to attend an animal fight or take a minor under the age of 16 to an animal fight. The AVMA advocated for this law for several years. By targeting not only those participating, but those also frequenting these fighting events, the association believed it was necessary to putting organizers out of business.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations also announced this year that it would start tracking animal cruelty as its own category in the Uniform Crime Report, the nation’s data repository on crimes. Previously, any animal cruelty crimes were included in an “all other offenses” category. Four types of animal cruelty will now be tracked, including animal fighting under the title of “organized abuse.” These statistics will aid law enforcement in allocating resources and improving enforcement.
For me, this year culminated with attending Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s statewide Law Enforcement Conference on Combating Animal Fighting. This one-day meeting, coordinated by the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and funded by a grant from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, gave law enforcement officers, animal control officers, attorneys and other interested individuals the opportunity to learn about recognizing, investigating and prosecuting cases of animal fighting. It is critical for veterinarians to be involved in these cases and work hand-in-hand with law enforcement, animal control and prosecuting attorneys by offering scientific and animal welfare expertise, forensic evaluation and support for the protection of the animal victims. This meeting showed that since the Michael Vick case came under scrutiny in Virginia several years ago, the state has become a leader in state laws, enforcement and resources to combat animal fighting.
Despite all these strides, unfortunately the cruelty of animal fighting still exists in the United States. The AVMA condemns these events and will continue to advocate for laws to crack down on the practice, resources for law enforcement and public education so that we can continue to protect animals from the harmful effects of these violent practices.