Animals in Sports - Major Animal Sports Andtheir Controversies
felony legal misdemeanor dogs
Animal sports enthusiasts argue that the animals are doing what they do naturally. Horses and greyhounds love to run, cocks naturally fight with each other in the barnyard, wild dogs fight over who will lead the pack, and unbroken livestock naturally try to buck off a rider. People involved in legitimate animal sports argue that the animals are well cared for because their welfare is crucial to the success of the sport and the people involved. In other words, they say it makes no sense for the owner or manager of a sports animal to mistreat that animal and perhaps lose money as a result. They also insist that safeguards are in place to ensure that animals are not mistreated during a sporting event and receive proper medical care if they are injured.
Critics say that animal sports are not sports at all, but performances forced out of animals that have no choice in the matter. They believe that sports animals are not behaving naturally but rather doing things that they are either trained to do or have been bred over many generations to do. Because so much money is involved in animal sports, animal welfare and rights advocates say greed and financial advancement are the main motivators behind animal sports. General problems with animal sports revolve around four main issues:
- Overbreeding of the animals
- Mistreatment during training, performances, and the off-season
- Lack of veterinary care
- The ways in which unwanted sports animals are destroyed
Thoroughbred horse racing is the king of animal sports in the United States. It is a multibillion-dollar industry involving people who breed, manage, train, own, and ride the horses, and the people who own and manage racetracks. Indirectly, the industry provides income to feed and equipment suppliers, veterinarians, and other support personnel. The industry is also a source of income for those state governments that allow gambling at racetracks and/or off-track betting locations.
Thoroughbred horse racing was taking place on Long Island, New York, as far back as 1665. However, the advent of organized Thoroughbred racing is attributed to Governor Samuel Ogle of Maryland, who staged a race "between pedigreed horses in the English style" in Annapolis, Maryland, in 1745. The Annapolis Jockey Club, which sponsored the race, later became the Maryland Jockey Club. Among its initial members were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
Thoroughbred breeding was prominent in Maryland and Virginia up until the Civil War (1861–65), when many operations were moved to Kentucky. Thoroughbred racing had already grown popular throughout the agricultural South at that time. In 1863 the Saratoga racecourse opened in northern New York. It is considered the oldest Thoroughbred flat track in the country. (A flat track is one with no hurdles or other obstacles for a racing horse to jump over.) The Jockey Club, the governing body of Thoroughbred horse racing, was established in 1894. Horse racing declined in popularity again around the turn of the century, after gambling was outlawed throughout much of the country.
The industry rebounded in the mid-1930s when several states legalized pari-mutuel gambling on horse racing. Legalization was seen as a means of regulating the industry and gaining some revenue from it. Horse racing remained popular in the United States until the 1940s, when it was severely curtailed during World War II (1939–45). The decades following the war saw a sharp decline in the popularity of horse racing. Three reasons are commonly given:
- Competition from other entertainment venues and leisure activities, such as theme parks, shopping malls, and television watching, increased.
- The horse-racing industry avoided television coverage of races during the 1960s for fear it would keep people away from the tracks. (This is now seen as a failure to take advantage of a major marketing tool.)
- Competition for gambling dollars from state lotteries and casinos came into being as those venues were legalized.
According to the Jockey Club, there were 60,792 Thoroughbred horse races in the United States during 2004. California hosted the most events, with 5,128 races, followed by West Virginia, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Florida. The total purse, or amount won by the owners of the winning horses, for all races was $1.2 billion. As shown in Figure 6.1, the number of Thoroughbred races held each year has generally declined since 1992. Although the number of races is declining, the purses are going up because people are gambling more money on horse races than ever before. (See Figure 6.2.)
As of 2005, there were about ninety Thoroughbred racetracks in the United States. Some racetracks are only open seasonally, while those in warm climates are open year-round. Racetracks vary in size and in ownership; some are government-owned, and some are owned by private and public companies.
The three most prestigious Thoroughbred races in the United States are the Kentucky Derby at the Churchill Downs track in Kentucky, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York. The races are held over a five-week period during May and June of each year. A horse that wins all three races in one year is said to have won the "Triple Crown." Only eleven horses have ever captured the Triple Crown—most recently, a horse named Affirmed in 1978.
There are two other types of professional horse racing associated with pari-mutuel wagering: harness racing and the racing of quarter horses and Arabian horses.
In harness racing, horses trot or pace rather than gallop. They have to be specially trained to run races in this manner. Typically the horse pulls behind it a two-wheeled cart, known as a sulky, carrying a jockey who controls the reins. Harness racing is performed by a breed of horse called the standardbred, which is shorter, more muscled, and longer in body than the Thoroughbred. In 1879 the National Association of Trotting Horse Breeders in America established the official registry for standardbred horses. While Thoroughbred horses were the favorite of high society, standardbred racing became popular among the common folk. As of 2005, there were approximately forty licensed harness racetracks around the country at which pari-mutuel betting took place. Harness racing is also conducted at county fairs and exhibitions, sometimes with the jockey seated on the horse rather than in a sulky.
A third type of horse known for racing is the quarter horse, so named because of its high speed over distances of less than one-quarter mile. It was originally bred by American colonists to be both hardworking and athletic. As of 2005, there were nearly forty quarter horse racetracks around the country.
Arabian horses are considered the only true purebred horses on the race circuit, as they have not been mixed with other breeds. Arabian horse racing was conducted at about ten tracks in the United States as of 2005.
THE WELFARE OF RACING HORSES.
The racehorse industry prides itself on the enormous investments it has made in horse health issues. Millions of dollars have been spent on veterinarian research concerning the injuries and illnesses that affect racehorses. The Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation is the leading private source of funding for research into horse health issues. The foundation, which dates back to 1940, is operated by the Jockey Club, though it accepts donations from private individuals, Thoroughbred clubs, racetracks, and other organizations. It allocated more than $850,000 during 2004 to universities conducting equine research projects, and has contributed more than $10 million since 1983. The foundation receives financial support from donations and from special racing events staged by horse racetracks. During 2004 the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation funded research in foal pneumonia, equine herpes virus, bone fractures, pain management, arthritis, heaves (a respiratory disorder), strangles (a bacterial infection), fertility, blood chemistry, and laminitis (foot inflammation).
Two other horse health issues of major concern are mare reproductive loss syndrome (MRLS) and exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH). MRLS is a mysterious illness blamed for an unusually high number of spontaneous miscarriages and stillborn births in pregnant mares and for births of weak foals (sometimes with respiratory problems) that require intense veterinary treatment. The syndrome killed more than 5,000 Kentucky foals, or horses less than one year old, during 2001. Analysts estimate that the MRLS tragedy had an economic impact of $336 million in the same year. EIPH is a common condition in racehorses, associated with bleeding from the lungs during strenuous exercise. Horses that experience EIPH are called "bleeders" and can be temporarily or permanently barred from racing depending on state regulations and the severity of the problem.
Most animal welfare groups are opposed to horse racing and contend that racehorses are treated as investments rather than as living beings. Specifically, they offer the following reasons for opposing the sport:
- Thoroughbred racehorses have been inbred to the point that their bodies are too heavy for their slender, fragile legs.
- Broodmares are forced to come into season too often and at unnatural times to lengthen the potential training season for their offspring.
- Racehorses are drugged when they have injuries or illnesses (such as hairline fractures) so that they can still compete.
- Track surfaces are too hard.
- The racing season is too long.
- Horses are run too young, risking damage to bones that are not fully mature.
- The industry is regulated by state governments that have a vested interest in making the industry profitable, not in safeguarding animal welfare.
- Racehorses suffer injuries and deaths during training and performances.
As shown in Table 6.2, there were 243 racehorse fatalities in California alone between November 2003 and November 2004. In addition, 533 racing-related injuries to horses were reported in the state, most of them to Thoroughbreds.
The slaughter of racehorses is a particularly controversial topic. Demand for horse meat has skyrocketed in parts of Asia and Europe. Horse meat sells for as much as $20 per pound in some markets, but horses intended for human consumption cannot be injected with drugs, either as painkillers or as a humane method of euthanization. By contrast, horses sold to rendering plants can be given drugs for pain in transit and can be euthanized by lethal injection. Horses sold for horse meat are given no pain-killers in transit, and when they reach the slaughterhouse, they are knocked unconscious, then have their throats cut (in the same way that cattle are slaughtered).
The USDA reported that more than 63,000 horses were slaughtered in the United States in 2003 for human consumption overseas. It is unknown how many of these horses came from the racing industry. Animal welfare groups allege that many injured racehorses are not humanely euthanized but are shipped off to slaughter without being given painkillers. Besides a handful of horse meat slaughterhouses in the United States, there are many in Mexico and Canada.
Welfarists say that racehorses going to meat slaughterhouses travel for many hours in cramped carriers with no food or water. Transport in double-decker cattle trailers is common. These carriers were designed for short-necked livestock, and horses riding in them must remain stooped over or on their knees for the entire trip.
In 1996 Congress passed the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act, but the regulations enforcing the act were not published until December 2001. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the new rules permit the use of double-decker trailers until 2006 and allow the horses to be transported for up to twenty-eight hours without water, food, or rest. The transport of horses in double-decker cattle trucks is prohibited in some states, including New York and Pennsylvania.
RETIRED RACING HORSE ADOPTION.
There are several organizations around the country that rescue retired racehorses and either adopt them out or provide lifetime sanctuary and care for them. Two of the largest are the Thoroughbred Retirement Fund (TRF) and the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program.
TRF is a nonprofit organization founded in 1982 by Monique Koehler. Since 1986 it has placed thousands of horses in adoptive homes, at horse sanctuaries, or in therapeutic programs for mentally and physically challenged people. TRF also partners with several prison facilities around the country to operate work programs in which inmates feed and care for retired racehorses at stables built at the prisons. The organization estimates
|Breed of horse||Occurred during|
|Los Angeles Turf Club/SA||31||11||13||7|
|Churchill Downs Operating Co./HP||28||10||15||3|
|Del Mar Thoroughbred Club/DM||22||10||7||5|
|Oak Tree Racing Assn./SA||5||2||2||1|
|Churchill Downs Fall Operating Co./HP||10||3||5||2|
|Bay Meadows Operating Co./BM||28||9||11||8|
|Bay Meadows Operating Co. (Fall)/BM||12||8||2||2|
|Pacific Racing Assn./GGF||38||19||9||10|
|Capitol Racing LLC/CE||6||2||1||3|
|Los Alamitos Quarter Horse Racing Assn./LA||11||19||1||1||26||2||4|
|Total fatalities 243||243||243|
|TB=Thoroughbreds QH=Quarter horses ST=Standardbreds APP=Appaloosas AR=Arabians|
|aTraining and other fatalities include fatalities that occurred at auxiliary training facilities.|
that 3,000 to 5,000 Thoroughbreds are retired from racing each year because of injury or lack of ability. In its winter 2005 newsletter Renews, TRF noted that it took in 168 new horses in the fall of 2004, bringing its total to 903. Most of the new horses came from small racetracks in the Northeast and Midwest that closed after the racing season. TRF purchased the horses to keep them from going to slaughterhouses. Many of the racehorses rescued by TRF come from miserable conditions and suffer due to serious neglect and untreated medical conditions.
The New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program adopts out retired racehorses (Thoroughbred and standardbred) at two facilities in Ohio. The group placed more than 1,200 horses between 1992 and 2004. Most of the horses had suffered injuries during their racing careers and required rehabilitation prior to placement. In addition, adopted racehorses must undergo training to be acceptable pleasure-riding horses. The program has strict requirements for people considering adoption and charges an adoption fee of $300–$700 per horse, depending on its age and physical condition. Horses that are very old and/or unrideable are sometimes adopted out for free.
Greyhounds were brought to the United States during the late 1800s to help control the jackrabbit population on farms in the Midwest. Soon local farmers began holding races. Early races were held using a live rabbit to lure the dogs to race. In the early 1900s, Owen Patrick Smith invented a mechanical lure for this purpose. The first circular greyhound track opened in Emeryville, California, in 1919.
In 2005 there were approximately four dozen greyhound racetracks operating around the country in fifteen states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. Greyhound racing is legal in South Dakota, but the state has no operating racetracks. Greyhound racing is most prevalent in Florida, where there are sixteen tracks, the most of any state. Florida's greyhound racing industry paid out purses of $32 million during 2002–03.
According to the HSUS, revenue from greyhound racing declined by 45% in the 1990s, leading to closure or cessation of live racing at many tracks around the country. In addition, seven states specifically banned live greyhound racing during the 1990s: Idaho, Maine, North Carolina, Nevada, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.
Three major organizations manage greyhound racing in the United States: the National Greyhound Association (NGA), the American Greyhound Track Operators Association (AGTOA), and the American Greyhound Council (AGC; a joint effort of the NGA and AGTOA). The NGA represents greyhound owners and is the official registry for racing greyhounds. All greyhounds that race on U.S. tracks must first be registered with the NGA. The AGTOA represents greyhound track operators. The AGC manages the industry's animal welfare programs, including farm inspections and adoptions.
According to undated information available on the Web site of the AGC in 2005, greyhound breeding farms and racing kennels pump approximately $96 million per year into local economies through the purchasing of goods and services.
THE WELFARE OF RACING GREYHOUNDS.
The HSUS and other animal welfare organizations are strongly opposed to greyhound racing for the following reasons:
- It is not governed by the federal Animal Welfare Act under the USDA as are other commercial animal enterprises, such as zoos and circuses.
- The industry severely overbreeds greyhounds in the hopes of producing winners, leading to the destruction of thousands of puppies each year.
- A racing greyhound's career is typically over at the age of four, well below its average life span of twelve years, meaning that thousands of adult dogs are also destroyed each year when they are no longer useful.
The AGC says that it has adopted standard guidelines for the care of greyhounds and the maintenance of kennel facilities based on the veterinary textbook The Care of the Racing Greyhound. All of the nation's greyhound breeding farms and kennels are subject to unannounced inspections to verify that they are complying with the industry's animal welfare guidelines. Violators can be expelled from the sport.
Statistics on the AGC Web site claim that greyhound tracks contribute about $1 million each year to local greyhound adoption programs and that 18,000 dogs are adopted annually. The organization insists that more than 90% of all registered greyhounds are retired to farms for breeding purposes or adopted out as pets.
According to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, almost all of the state's greyhound tracks actively sponsor greyhound adoption programs, and many have on-site adoption booths. The industry is required to pay 10% of the credit it receives for uncashed winning tickets to organizations that promote or encourage greyhound adoptions. These mandatory contributions amounted to $256,150 during fiscal year 2002–03.
The National Coalition against Legalized Gambling claims that there were more than seventy-five well-documented cases of cruelty and abuse in the greyhound industry during the 1990s, involving thousands of dogs that were shot, starved, abandoned, or sold to research laboratories.
Animal welfare groups estimate that 12,000 to 20,000 adult greyhounds are destroyed each year by the racing industry. The Greyhound Protection League (GPL) claims that 7,437 greyhound puppies were culled (killed) in 2003 alone. (See Table 6.3. Note that some of these numbers are calculated from estimates.) More than half a million greyhound puppies and adult dogs are believed to have been killed by the industry between 1986 and 2003.
The GPL maintains an online database of greyhound deaths and injuries occurring at racetracks around the country. According to the GPL, an eighteen-month-old greyhound was killed in July 2004 when he fell during a race in Flagler, Florida. The dog's legs were severed by the lure motor—an electric device that circles the track.
In May 2002 a sixty-eight-year-old man named Robert Leroy Rhodes was arrested and charged with felony animal cruelty after the remains of more than 2,000 greyhounds were found on his property in Baldwin County, Alabama. The man, who worked as a security guard at the Pensacola Greyhound Park in Florida, claimed that the track paid him $10 a piece to shoot the dogs and dispose of their carcasses on his eighteen-acre farm. He admitted to performing the service for forty years at the request of race dog owners. Authorities report that autopsies indicate some of the dogs were not killed instantly and therefore suffered before they died. It is a felony in Alabama to torture an animal. Racetrack officials denied involvement in the case and fired Rhodes along with several other security guards and a kennel operator.
Alabama authorities eventually charged four greyhound owners and trainers under the state's animal cruelty law based on statements from Rhodes and Clarence Ray Patterson, a kennel owner at the Pensacola Greyhound Track. At an April 2004 hearing, the Baldwin County sheriff testified that Rhodes, who died in 2003, had admitted killing between 2,000 and 3,000 greyhounds that were too sick or old to race. Florida investigators testified that Florida kennel owners and trainers paid Rhodes to shoot unwanted greyhounds, because it was cheaper than having the animals humanely euthanized by a veterinarian. The defendants' lawyers asked for the case to be dropped because the key witnesses could not be cross-examined.
|Year||Number of litters born (NGA)||Estimated number born||Dogs individually registered to race (NGA)||Farm puppies culled before racing||Estimated greyhounds adoptedb||Estimated dogs retained for breeding||Racing dogs killed||Total killed (farm puppies and racing dogs)|
|Litters: As reported by the National Greyhound Association (NGA), the U.S. registry organization.|
|Total born: Derived by multiplying the total number of litters by an average of 6.52 pups per litter (this is the conservative average that industry sources report).|
|Individuals registered to race: As reported by the NGA in The Greyhound Review, the official industry publication. Each owner must pay an additional fee to the NGA to have a greyhound individually registered.|
|Culled: This column shows the total number of dogs who disappear annually between birth and individual registration by 18 months of age. Very few greyhound puppies or young dogs are ever delivered to greyhound rescue groups.|
|aTo arrive at an estimated eighteen-year total of greyhounds killed, one must also subtract the number of dogs still in the racing system (approximately 40,000), the number of puppies/youngsters currently at farms (approximately 28,500) and the breeding stock required to produce thousands of litters a year (about 500 males and 3,000 females).|
|bA liberal estimate of figures from those in the adoption community.|
|cOrganized, large scale adoption efforts did not take place until the mid-1990's. During the late 1980's it is estimated that only a few hundred dogs made it into adoptive homes nationwide. For over 50 years all greyhounds were routinely destroyed.|
Rhodes had died and Patterson could not be located by authorities at that time.
In June 2004 Patterson was discovered in an Alabama jail where he had been incarcerated for several months on unrelated charges. However, he subsequently refused to testify against his fellow defendants. In January 2005 the district attorney in the case asked for a dismissal of animal cruelty charges against the defendants.
In early 2003 the greyhound racing industry was severely hurt by an epidemic that struck many racing dogs in Alabama and Florida. Races across the country had to be cancelled. Although the symptoms were similar to those of kennel cough, a common infectious but generally nonserious disease, some of the infected dogs died. Autopsies indicated that the illness might be a much more serious disease called canine streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS). Animal welfare groups note that tracks continue to let sick dogs race, risking further exposure and spread of the disease.
CONCERNS ABOUT DRUGGING.
In May 2004 the Tampa Tribune reported that forty-four racing greyhounds in Florida tested positive for cocaine following their races during fiscal year 2003 (Alan Snel, "Drugs Taint Integrity of Greyhound Races," May 3, 2004). In total, the newspaper found that 119 greyhounds had tested positive for cocaine since 2001. Owners of greyhounds testing positive were forced to forfeit their winnings, but there was no recourse for bettors who had wagered on greyhounds that might have won if the drugged dogs had been disqualified. Drug test results are not obtained until several weeks after a race has run. Rapid-screening tests that could provide results at the race track are considered too expensive by the greyhound racing industry.
The newspaper article questioned why state officials did not investigate how the drugs had gotten into the dogs' systems. The president of the National Greyhound Association suggested that the cause could be trace amounts of cocaine on the hands of trainers or other people touching the dogs. State officials denied that trainers were purposely drugging greyhounds to influence race outcomes.
Sled Dog Racing
The sport of sled dog racing is small but extremely popular throughout Alaska, Canada, and parts of northern Europe. In North America the sport traces its origins to Native Americans, who for centuries have used hardy dogs bred for cold weather to pull their sleds. Typical draft animals, such as horses and oxen, were unsuitable for this purpose because of their weight and food requirements.
There are a variety of dogs used in sledding, including the Malamute, Siberian huskies, Samoyeds, and special crossbreeds. Most sled race dogs are relatively small, weighing only about fifty pounds. They are compact and muscular and grow a thick winter coat. Mushers (sled drivers) say they develop a special bond with their dogs and that the dogs love to race.
Sled dogs were used by famous polar explorers, including Richard Byrd and Robert Peary, to traverse dangerous terrain in harsh weather conditions. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police used sled dogs to patrol northern parts of Canada beginning in the late 1800s.
The most famous sled dog race, the Iditarod, traces its origins to 1908, when a gold rush occurred near the town of Iditarod in central Alaska. Steamboats could bring visitors and supplies to the town only during the short warm season from around June to September. During the remainder of the year the rivers were frozen, and sledding was the only means of travel available.
In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic swept through Alaska. Doctors in Nome reported that they were out of serum and needed more immediately to save the town's hundreds of residents. Teams of sled dogs were organized in villages along the way to relay the serum more than 600 miles from Nenana to Nome in just over five days. The final leg of the journey was accomplished in a ferocious blizzard by a musher named Gunnar Kaasen. The lead dog of his team, named Balto, came to be known as Balto the Wonder Dog.
The event attracted attention worldwide and brought fame and glory to the mushers and dogs involved, particularly Balto. A statue of Balto was erected in Central Park in New York City with an inscription that reads "Dedicated to the indomitable Spirit of the sled dogs that relayed the antitoxin 600 miles over rough ice, treacherous waters; through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925. Endurance. Fidelity. Intelligence."
The fame was short-lived. Balto and the other dogs on the team were sold to a vaudeville promoter within a year of their historic run. In 1927 a businessman from Cleveland, Ohio, saw the dogs in a shabby "dime-a-look" show in Los Angeles. The dogs were sick and obviously mistreated. A massive media campaign conducted by Cleveland newspapers raised $2,000 to buy the dogs and ship them to the Cleveland Zoo. The dogs were a popular attraction and were well cared for the remainder of their lives. After his death, Balto was stuffed and mounted and is now an exhibit in the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.
In the 1940s and 1950s, sled dog teams were hired by the U.S. military to help in rescue and retrieval operations whenever planes crashed in the Alaskan wilderness. One musher who participated in these events was Joe Redington. In 1967 he helped organize a sled dog race called the Iditarod Trail Seppala Memorial Race. By 1973 the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race was run between Anchorage and Nome, a distance of roughly 1,150 miles. The race became an annual event, growing in popularity every year and bearing the nickname the "Last Great Race on Earth."
The Iditarod is held in early Marchofeach year and includes dozens of teams competing for thousands of dollars in prize money. In general, the race is completed in anywhere from eight to sixteen days. The speed record (set in 2002) is eight days, twenty-two hours, and forty-six minutes. The 2003 and 2004 races were plagued by unusually warm weather and light snowfall. The winning times both years exceeded nine days, with the last finishers taking just over fifteen days to complete the race. More than $750,000 in prize money was awarded to winning mushers for the 2005 Iditarod.
Mushers are allowed to start the Iditarod with up to sixteen dogs. A typical team includes fifteen dogs, one of which is the leader. The others are arranged in pairs behind the lead dog. The pair closest to the sled carries the heaviest load among the dogs. No dog substitutions are allowed during the race. If one or more dogs drop out for any reason, they cannot be replaced. The remainder carry the load. The dogs wear booties on their paws to help protect against cuts and abrasions.
The Iditarod includes about twenty-four checkpoints along the way. Each team is required to take three breaks during the race: one twenty-four-hour break and two eight-hour breaks. Mushers leave dogs that are sick, tired, or injured at one of the checkpoints for transport back to the starting point. According to race officials, each checkpoint has a veterinarian available.
Hazards of the race include the weather conditions, wildlife, and unpredictable terrain. Temperatures can drop to as low as −40° F during the race. However, unusually warm temperatures (up to 50° F) are also a problem as they can contribute to heat stress in the dogs and cause spoilage of dog food stored along the route.
The Iditarod received little media attention outside of Alaska until 1985, when a woman (Libby Riddles) won the race for the first time. Another woman, Susan Butcher, won the Iditarod four times between 1986 and 1990. The resulting publicity greatly boosted the profile of the race but also brought more scrutiny and criticism from animal welfare organizations.
THE WELFARE OF SLED DOGS.
In 1991 an Anchorage musher was charged with animal cruelty after twelve dead puppies and two living but badly injured puppies were found in a crate in his truck. The man admitted to shooting and bludgeoning the puppies, which were from his sled dog breeding stock. He had not checked to make sure that they were all dead and had left them in the truck for at least nine hours. He was sentenced to 160 hours of community service and was suspended from the Iditarod.
A sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News defended the man, saying that he was not a bad person, just "naive, misinformed, misguided, and confused." The reporter acknowledged that there is a "dark side of the sport" in that mushers must get rid of puppies sometimes, and homes are difficult to find for them. "They do it because they can't afford the estimated $500 a year it takes to feed and care for dogs which won't be part of their racing teams" (Lew Freedman, "Musher Who Killed Puppies Pays by Losing Sport He Loved Most," October 9, 1991).
The negative publicity from this incident, as well as publicized dog deaths during Iditarods held in the early 1990s, caused many corporate sponsors to drop their financial support of the race. In 1995 the HSUS asked the Alaska attorney general to investigate alleged animal abuses in the Iditarod. The attorney general refused the request, noting that the dogs were treated in conformance with accepted veterinary practices during the race.
Iditarod organizers implemented stricter rules, including reducing the number of dogs required to start the race from twenty to sixteen, meaning fewer dogs were exposed to racing hazards. They also expanded their efforts to educate people about the measures that are taken to protect the dogs. Today the Iditarod receives its sponsorship mostly from Alaska-based companies.
The HSUS opposes the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, arguing that the sled dogs are forced to run "too far and too fast" in brutal weather and racing conditions. Critics point out that the pressure to run the Iditarod faster every year pushes the dogs beyond their limits. They point out that the historic diphtheria run made by Balto and other sled dogs in 1925 was conducted by several relay teams, not one team of dogs.
In addition, the HSUS lists the following problems:
- The race experiences dog deaths and injuries almost every year.
- At least 120 sled dogs are known to have died during the race since its inception, including fifteen to nineteen dogs in the first race alone. Two dogs died in 2001, one dog died in 2002, and one dog died in 2003. Dogs have died from heart and other organ failures due to overexertion, pneumonia, and injuries, including being strangled in towlines (the ropes that stretch from the dogs' harnesses to the sled) and rammed by sleds.
- At least three mushers have been disqualified from races for beating or kicking dogs or forcing dogs to run through dangerously deep slush. Two of the dogs in these cases died.
- Race dogs have suffered heat stress, dehydration, diarrhea, pulled tendons, and cut paws due to their participation in the Iditarod.
- Sled dog breeders kill puppies that are unable or unwilling to become good racers.
The HSUS also notes that the majority of sled dogs are confined to short tethers in large dog yards when they are not racing. Tethering as a means of primary confinement is not permitted by the USDA for its licensed dog breeders and is opposed by the HSUS.
Iditarod mushers and supporters acknowledge that the race is grueling and can be dangerous, but they believe that sufficient rules and safeguards are in place to protect the dogs from injury and abuse. Many people involved in the sport believe that the dangers and wildness of the race enhance its allure.
The Sled Dog Action Coalition (SDAC) is another organization opposed to the Iditarod. Begun in 1999 by a former schoolteacher, the SDAC Web site lists hundreds of quotes from newspaper reporters, mushers, and other sources regarding abuses and mishaps that take place during racing and training. The SDAC calls for specific reforms to be made in race procedures to ensure the safety of the sled dogs, including:
- Performance of an electrocardiogram, chest X-ray, blood workup, and urine test on each dog prior to the race
- Performance of a complete physical exam on each dog by a veterinarian at each race checkpoint
- Certification of all mushers in canine first aid or CPR
- More rest periods during the race
- Establishment of minimum vet-to-dog ratios
The SDAC notes that the Iditarod uses only about thirty-five veterinarians to oversee as many as 1,000 dogs that participate in the race.
The Iditarod is not the only sled dog race. The International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA) was formed in 1966. The organization has more than 850 members and sanctions up to seventy-five races each year. These include traditional sled dog races as well as gig races, in which dogs pull wheeled rigs, and ski-joring and bike-joring, in which dogs pull people on skis and bicycles, respectively. There are events for adults and children.
The ISDRA has an animal welfare policy that requires race participants to abide by the following rule: "There shall be no cruel, inhumane or abusive treatment of any dog, through deliberate action or inaction, through knowledge or ignorance, with or without implement, nor shall anyone deny a dog adequate care."
The word "rodeo" comes from the Spanish word rodear, meaning to surround. Originally a rodeo was a roundup of cattle that happened once or twice a year. Open-range grazing was common in western North America during the 1800s, and cowboys were hired to round up the cattle and herd them to market. Following these cattle drives, as they were called, the cowboys would often congregate and hold informal contests to show off their skills at riding and roping.
In 1897 the mayor of Cheyenne, Wyoming, decided to hold a festival to attract tourists to the town. The first Cheyenne Frontier Days included competitions and exhibitions of typical cowboy skills, such as racing ponies, roping cattle, and riding broncos. (Bronco is a Spanish word that means rough and wild. It was used by cowboys to describe an unbroken horse—that is, a wild horse that had not been trained to accept a rider. There were several million wild horses in the Old West at that time.)
The Cheyenne Frontier Days festival was so popular that it became an annual event and was eventually called a rodeo, as were similar events that all originated in Western states during that same time period. In 1912 the western Canadian town of Calgary, Alberta, held the first Calgary Stampede. This rodeo grew to be the largest one in the world.
THE RODEO BUSINESS.
Rodeos have expanded their traditional fan base and now take place all over North America, even in big cities. They are seen by their fans as wholesome family entertainment that glorifies the rugged and hardworking cowboys of the Old West.
Animal welfare groups estimate that several thousand rodeos take place each year. The Animal Protection Institute reported in spring 2002 that a dozen professional organizations sponsor about 1,000 rodeos each year. Professional rodeo stars travel from event to event and compete for millions of dollars in prize money. Most big-money rodeos in the United States are sponsored by the Professional Rodeo and Cowboy Association (PRCA). According to information posted on its Web site in 2005, the PRCA sanctioned 671 rodeos during 2004 with total prize money of $35.5 million. Besides professional rodeos, the organization also sponsors amateur rodeo events for children and youth.
The animals used in rodeos include horses, bulls, steers (male cattle that have been castrated prior to reaching sexual maturity), and calves. Typical rodeo events include:
- Bareback bull riding—The rider has one hand tied while the bull is held securely in an enclosure called a chute. When the bull is released from the chute, it tries to buck the rider off. The goal for the rider is to remain on the bucking bull for as long as possible without touching the bull or the equipment with his free hand. Each ride is judged based on the rowdiness of the animal and on the ability of the rider to maintain the proper position and form during the ride. The riders earn extra points for spurring the bull during the ride.
- Saddle bronc riding—The riding action and judging are similar to those described for bull riding. The rider's score is based on the bucking action of the horse, the rider's form and control, and the way in which the rider spurs the horse. The length of his or her spurring stroke is important.
- Bareback horse riding—Bareback horse riding is similar to bronc riding, except that the rider has no saddle. A leather and rawhide rigging is attached to the horse and the rider holds on to it with only one hand during the ride. Scoring is based on the rowdiness of the horse and the rider's spurring action and ability to maintain the proper form.
- Steer wrestling—A steer wrestler, or bulldogger, begins on horseback. A steer is released from its pen and the bulldogger pursues it while another rider on horseback (the hazer) keeps the steer running in a straight line. When the bulldogger pulls even with the steer, he slips off his horse, grabs the steer by its horns, and twists them to throw the steer to the ground. The clock stops when the bulldogger has all four of the steer's legs pointing in the same direction.
- Calf roping—Calf roping (or tie-down roping) requires a rider on horseback to pursue a running calf. The rider ropes the calf, slips off his horse, and throws the calf to the ground. He uses a thin rope carried in his teeth to tie together three of the calf's legs. The binding must be strong enough to hold the calf for at least six seconds or the run does not count.
- Steer roping—Steer roping is similar to calf roping except much more difficult because of the size and strength of a steer. Also, the steer is roped around the horns rather than around the neck. Steer roping requires a large amount of space and is held only at a few large rodeos.
- Team roping—Team roping is similar to steer roping, except that two riders on horseback participate. The header chases and ropes the steer around its horns and/or neck while the heeler chases and ropes the steer's two hind legs and pulls them out from under the animal, causing it to fall to the ground.
- Barrel racing—Riders on horseback sprint in a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels positioned around an arena. The object is to complete the circuit as quickly as possible without tipping over any barrels. Quarter horses are commonly used in barrel racing.
THE WELFARE OF RODEO ANIMALS.
The PRCA defends the treatment of animals used in rodeos it sponsors, claiming that it has an extensive animal welfare program that governs the care and handling of rodeo animals and requires that a veterinarian be on-site during a rodeo. Injury statistics compiled by these on-site independent veterinarians show an extremely low injury rate at PRCA rodeos. A survey released in 2000 covered the 1999 National Finals Rodeo and fifty-six other rodeos. Out of 71,743 animal exposures, the survey reported only thirty-eight injuries, an injury rate of 0.05%. The 2001 survey covered sixty-seven PRCA rodeos and showed an injury rate of only 0.03%.
Animal welfare organizations are opposed to rodeos. They argue that rodeos are not representative of Old West ranching ways but are businesses that use animals as pieces of athletic equipment. They say that most injured rodeo animals are not humanely euthanized but are sent to slaughterhouses without receiving veterinary attention or painkillers. They also point out that today's rodeo animals are not naturally wild and unbroken as they might have been when rodeos first started in the 1800s but are relatively tame animals that must be physically provoked into displaying wild behavior. This is particularly true for the bucking animals.
According to "Born to Buck?" (Diana Rowe Martinez, Rodeo and Cowboys, Suite101.com, http://www.suite101.com/article.cfm/rodeo_and_cowboys/51740), bucking animals, or roughstock, as they are called, are supplied to rodeos by stock contractors. Prior to the 1950s, semi-wild horses that roamed the western United States were used for this purpose. They became scarce as ranchers began breeding gentler dispositions into their stock and eliminating horses that were difficult to control by destroying them or selling them to slaughterhouses.
A Montana stock contractor named Ernest Tooke was one of the first to produce a line of large strong bucking broncs by mating an Arabian stallion with draft horses. Contractors also use selective breeding to obtain bucking bulls for rodeos. The gentler buckers are supplied to youth and amateur-level rodeos, while the "tough and unpredictable" stock are saved for high-paying professional events.
Some regular horses become roughstock if they do not have the disposition to be work or pleasure horses. When not on the road or performing, roughstock are kept in open fields and isolated from human contact as much as possible. People in the rodeo business commonly use the words "ornery" and "rank" to describe roughstock behavior. They argue that roughstock buck because it is their nature, not because they are tortured to do so.
Rodeo opponents say that bucking is unnatural behavior provoked in rodeo animals by tormenting them with painful straps and spurs. They also claim that bucking animals are sometimes poked with cattle prods or sharp sticks or rubbed with caustic ointments right before they are released from their chutes in order to incite more frenzied bucking action during the ride.
Bucking horses do wear flank straps that encourage them to kick their legs high in the air, according to the PRCA. However, the PRCA requires that the flank strap be lined with fleece or neoprene and placed loosely around the horses. On its anti-rodeo Web site, the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says the straps are cinched tightly around the animals' sensitive abdomen and groin areas, causing the animals to buck to try to throw off the painful devices. The PRCA denies that the straps are pulled tight, arguing that a tight strap would actually restrict a horse's movement and not permit it to jump into the air.
Riders in several rodeo events wear and use spurs. The PRCA requires that the spur points be dull and that the wheel-like rowels on the spurs be able to roll along the animal's hide, rather than be locked. The organization contends that this prevents any injury to the animal from spurring. Riders who violate these rules or injure an animal are subject to disqualification. PETA argues that even dull spurs are painful because they are kicked into the animals' sides. They compare being poked by a dull spur to being hit by a hammer.
Besides bucking animals, activists are particularly critical of the calf-roping events, noting that calves have their tails twisted or raked against a rail to ensure that they will leave the chute at a full run. The PRCA argues that the techniques used in events such as calf and steer roping were used on Old West ranches to catch and immobilize cattle needing medical treatment. In early 2003 the PRCA announced that the term "calf roping" was no longer to be used at PRCA rodeos and would be replaced by the term "tie-down roping."
Dr. Peggy Larson is a veterinarian who once participated in rodeos and has cared for rodeo animals. In a 2002 interview with the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights ("An Interview with Peggy Larson," Directions, Winter 2002), she described her concerns about rodeo animal welfare.
Larson considers steer wrestling to be one of the least harmful rodeo events and calf-roping to be one of the worst. She describes calves that have died or had to be euthanized because of broken limbs, backs, and necks caused by the sudden jerk of the rope. The calves also suffer oxygen deprivation while the rope is cinched tightly around their necks during the tie-down. Larson also noted that calves are jabbed with electric prods in order to get them to leave their chutes at a full run.
She also described rodeo horse training methods, including the use of wire attachments on the horse's bit. Dr. Larson says that these wires stab painfully into the horse's gums when the reins are pulled and can even sever the tongue.
Although many activists are opposed to the use of flank straps on bucking horses, Dr. Larson does not think that these straps are painful to the animals. She is much more concerned about tissue damage caused by repeated spurring, particularly in the horses' shoulder areas. Also, she worries that these blunt injuries do not have time to heal between shows. Although Dr. Larson believes that spurring of horses should be outlawed in rodeos, she stated, "I do not believe that rodeo can ever be made humane and still remain popular."
The animal protection group SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) is staunchly opposed to rodeos and waged a comprehensive campaign against the PRCA and rodeo sponsors during 2004. SHARK activists personally videotape animal incidents at rodeos and provide tape access on the Web site. SHARK claims that nine dead or crippled animals were dragged out of the arena during the National Steer Busting Finals held during November 2004 in Amarillo, Texas. SHARK accuses the PRCA of editing television broadcasts to prevent the public from seeing animal injuries and deaths that occur during rodeos.
Besides traditional American rodeos, there is another type of rodeo growing in popularity: the Mexican rodeo charreada. Its cowboys are called charros. Although charreadas held in the United States are generally small-time events, with only a few hundred spectators, they are harshly criticized by animal welfare groups. Charreadas include many of the same events as American rodeos but may also include manganas, or horse-tripping, and tailing. Horse tripping is a roping event in which charros try to lasso the legs of a running horse and bring it tumbling to the ground. In a tailing event, a charro on a horse grabs the tail of a running cow or steer and tries to jerk the animal to the ground.
Horse welfare groups, including the California Equine Council, have been very critical of horse tripping and describe numerous injuries associated with it. According to the Animal Protection Institute, horse tripping was banned in the states of California, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, Maine, and Oklahoma as of 2005. Because charreadas are primarily conducted and attended in the United States by Hispanics, some Hispanic groups have complained that prohibiting horse tripping is discriminatory.
Cockfighting is performed by cocks outfitted with sharp spikes called gaffs on their legs. Two cocks are thrown into a pit together, where they fight to the death. Cockfighting was banned by most states during the 1800s. As of April 2004, it was illegal in forty-eight states. (See Table 6.4.)
According to the HSUS, cockfighting was still legal in parts of Louisiana and New Mexico in April 2004. It was a felony in thirty-one states and a misdemeanor offense in seventeen others. States differ in their treatment of cockfight spectators and those caught in possession of birds for fighting.
Because cockfighting is still legal in some parts of the United States and in Mexico and many Asian countries, there is a commercial breeding industry in America. However, the federal Animal Welfare Act prohibits the interstate transport of birds for cockfighting into states with laws against cockfighting. As of 2005, the law also prohibited the transport of fighting gamecocks into or out of states where cockfighting is still legal and banned the exporting of fighting gamecocks to foreign countries.
In May 2004 the Louisiana House Agriculture Committee voted to defeat a bill that would have banned cockfighting in the state. A majority of the commissioners felt that cockfighting was of cultural and economic importance to Louisiana.
According to the Atlanta Journal and Constitution (Drew Jubera, "The Fight of Its Life: Cockfighting Is Big Business in Louisiana, but a New Federal Law Threatens the Sport and Angers Legions of Loyal Fans," March 9, 2003), the Louisiana cockfighting industry generates millions of dollars in revenue. The state has more than seventy cockfighting pits that draw spectators from across the country. The larger pits can seat hundreds of people and charge gamecock owners as much as $1,000 to participate in a fight. Winners can earn $50,000 in these matches. Superior gamecocks sell for up to $300 each.
A Journal reporter interviewed people involved in cockfighting to find out why they participated in it. Most said that they admired the natural fighting talents of cocks. Although they admitted that cockfighting was violent, they did not think that it was cruel to the birds. One breeder insisted that it would be crueler to keep the birds from fighting, because they love fighting so much.
There are no national statistics on the prevalence of illegal cockfighting, but the organization Pet-Abuse.com tracks publicized cases of illegal animal activities, including cockfighting. The Web site's database included five major media stories about cockfighting reported during January and February 2005 alone. Nearly 200 people were arrested in the incidents, including dozens of juveniles. Authorities confiscated hundreds of fighting cocks, most of which had to be euthanized. In addition, large amounts of cash were seized. One law enforcement official noted that "gambling, guns, drugs, and alcohol are commonly found during cock fights."
On February 2, 2005, federal agents and state and local police officers raided a property in Middleboro, Massachusetts, to seize suspects wanted on outstanding drug warrants. Authorities discovered a major breeding facility for fighting cocks, with up to 300 birds in cages. Some of the birds had frozen to death in the cold. Two suspects were arrested and charged with a variety of offenses. It is believed that this facility was a major supplier of roosters for cockfights throughout New England.
Dogfighting is widely considered to be one of the most horrific forms of animal abuse—by members of animal welfare groups, criminal justice representatives, and law enforcement officials. In the United States dogfighting is an illegal, multimillion-dollar gambling
|State||Cockfighting: on the law books||Cockfighting: a felony or a misdemeanor||Loophole: possession of cocks for fighting||Loophole: being a spectator at a cockfight||Loophole: possession of implements|
|Washington DC||§ 22-1015||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor||Legal|
|1These states do not use the terms "felony" or "misdemeanor", but rather have felony and misdemeanor equivalent penalties.|
|2A repeated offense can trigger a felony prosecution.|
|3While it is not specifically prohibited by state law, cockfighting can be prosecuted under the general anti-cruelty statute. On June 9, 2003, three people were indicted under felony charges for cockfighting under Georgia's new felony cruelty law.|
|4While it is not specifically prohibited by state law, cockfighting can be prosecuted under the general anti-cruelty statute as well as other statutes addressing cockfighting.|
|5In Alaska, a first offense is a violation, and a second offense becomes a misdemeanor.|
|6Felony charges may also be leveled against persons responsible for the mutilation of birds.|
|7In New Mexico, cockfighting has been prohibited in 13 counties [Bernadillo, Cibola, Colfax, Doña Ana, Grant, Los Alamos, McKinley, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, San Juan, San Miguel, Santa Fe, Taos] and 28 municipalities [Albuquerque, Aztec, Belen, Bernalillo, Bosque Farms, Clayton, Corrales, Deming, Espanola, Eunice, Ft. Sumner, Gallup, Grants, Hobbs, Las Cruces, Las Vegas, Lordsburg, Los Lunas, Los Ranchos de Alb, Raton, Rio Rancho, Ruidoso, Santa Fe, Silver City, Taos, Truth or Consequences, Tucumcari, Williamsburg].|
|8In Virginia, being a spectator at an animal fight is only illegal if an admission fee is paid.|
industry, often associated with gangs, auto theft, arms smuggling, money laundering, and drug trafficking. Dogs most often used in dogfighting are pit bulls, which are not considered a specific breed but are rather a mix of breeds, the most predominant being the American Staffordshire terrier. Because pit bulls are extremely loyal to their owners and have powerful, muscular bodies and strong jaws, they can be bred and trained to exhibit aggressive behavior toward other dogs, although all pit bulls are not necessarily aggressive by nature. Fights typically go on for hours, sometimes to the death. Generally, a fight goes on until a dog gives up or an owner concedes defeat. Dogs that survive the fights frequently die hours or days later of shock, blood loss, or infection. Bets placed in the range of $10,000 to $50,000 are typical during a dogfight.
Fighting dogs are judged on their "gameness." Gameness is determined by a dog's willingness and eagerness to fight and its reluctance to yield or back down during the fight. Selective breeding and grueling, cruel training methods are used to enhance gameness. Fighting dogs usually are drugged with steroids and other stimulants to enhance their aggression.
In December 2000 the Harvard Medical School's Weekly Addiction Gambling Education Report published its research findings on the cultural aspects of dogfighting in the southern United States. Researchers interviewed thirty-one men involved in dogfighting in Louisiana and Mississippi. They found that dogfighting was closely associated with the men's need to assert their masculinity. A "game" dog brought the owner status and prestige among other dog owners. Any dog showing cowardice or a willingness to quit reflected poorly on its owner's masculinity and was killed.
Fighting dogs are often trained on treadmills or devices called catmills. A catmill holds an animal, such as a cat, rabbit, or small dog, just out of reach of the training dog while it runs. Police report that these bait animals are often pets stolen from local neighborhoods and are usually killed during the training. Mild-tempered pit bulls that show no fighting inclinations also are used as bait dogs. In February 2004 Maryann Mott reported in National Geographic News that pet theft by dogfighting rings was on the rise in the United States ("U.S. Dog-Fighting Rings Stealing Pets for 'Bait'," February 18, 2004, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/02/0218_040218_dogfighting.html). Mott pointed out that there are no national statistics on how many pets are stolen annually, but incidents of companion animals being stolen havebeen reported across the United States. In a six-month period from 2003 to 2004, 3,396 pets were reported missing in Pima County, Arizona; of those, law enforcement officials estimate that about 50% were probably stolen, used as training bait, and then their bodies were dumped in the Arizona desert. In 2004 Arizona state representative Ted Downing introduced a bill that would impose felony charges, with penalties of two years in prison and $150,000 in fines, for anyone caught stealing an animal to be used in dogfighting.
Dogfighting is illegal in all fifty states. (See Table 6.5.) It is a felony in forty-eight and a misdemeanor in the others. Even being a spectator at a dogfight is a felony in some states. Possession of a dog for fighting is illegal in forty-seven states.
Animal welfare groups and police departments across the United States want to strengthen state and federal laws to make possession of a fighting dog a felony in every state. They also ask major newspapers not to accept
|State||Dogfighting: on the law books||Dogfighting: a felony or a misdemeanor||Loophole: possession of dogs for fighting||Loophole: being a spectator at a dogfight|
|Arizona||§13-2910.01 to 02||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|Illinois||510 ILCS 5/26-5||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Indiana||§ 35-46-3-4 to 9.5||Felony||Misdemeanor||Misdemeanor|
|Iowa||§ 717D.1 to 6||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Kentucky||§ 525.125 to 130||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Maine1||17 MRS §1033||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Maryland||Art. 27 § 59||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Massachusetts||Ch. 272 § 94 to 95||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|New Hampshire||§ 644:8-a||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|New Jersey1||§ 4:22-24||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|New Mexico||§ 30-18-9||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|New York||Agr & M § 351||Felony||Misdemeanor||Misdemeanor|
|North Carolina||§ 14-362.2||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|North Dakota||§ 36-21.1-07||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Ohio||§ 955.15 to 16||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|Oklahoma||21 § 1694 to 1699.1||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Pennsylvania||18 Pa.C.S. § 5511||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|Rhode Island||§ 4-1-9 to 13||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|South Carolina||§ 16-27-10 to 80||Felony||Felony||Felony2|
|South Dakota||§ 40-1-9 to 10.1||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Vermont||13 VSA § 352||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|West Virginia||§ 61-8-19 to 19a||Felony||Misdemeanor||Misdemeanor|
|50 Illegal||48 Felony||41 Felony||20 Felony|
|0 Legal||2 Misdemeanor||6 Misdemeanor||28 Misdemeanor|
|3 Legal||2 Legal|
|Washington, DC||Ch. 106||Felony||Felony||Misdemeanor|
|Puerto Rico||15 LPRA § 235||Felony||Legal||Misdemeanor|
|Virgin Islands||19 VIC § 2613a||Felony||Felony||Felony|
|1These states do not have felony or misdemeanor offenses per se, but rather have felony and misdemeanor equivalent penalties.|
|2A repeated offense can trigger a felony prosecution.|
advertisements selling dogs that use descriptive words like "game dog" or "game bred," as these terms imply that the dog is intended for fighting. The HSUS asks people to notify the organization whenever such ads appear in their local newspapers.
The Ohio Dog Fighting Task Force estimated in 2001 that around 30,000 people and 250,000 dogs were involved in organized dogfighting in the United States. According to a 2002 article in the Columbus Dispatch, incidents increased by approximately 300% between 1992 and 2002 (Kathy Lynn Gray, "Blood Sport: A Dramatic Rise in Illegal Dogfighting Overwhelms Authorities and Strikes Fear in Some Neighborhoods," May 5, 2002). Law enforcement and animal control officers across the country report huge increases in the number of pit bulls they have confiscated in recent years. One county in Ohio seized nearly 2,000 pit bulls in 2002. More than half of the dogs showed injuries or scars typical of fighting dogs.
In January 2003 ABC News reported on the growing concern of police in dealing with organized dogfights. The report described a raid at a Columbus, Ohio, auto body shop in which forty people were arrested and nearly $25,000 in cash was confiscated, along with some handguns and drugs. The spectators had come from as far away as Alabama to see the fight. Police believe that dogfighting has changed from a small-time rural activity to a well-organized business that advertises over the Internet. They are increasingly concerned about the number of drug dealers and gang members they see involved in dogfighting and the large amounts of money that are bet.
In January 2005 Texas authorities uncovered the largest dogfighting event in state history. A raid in Bexar County resulted in the arrest of more than twenty-five people and seizure of ninety pit bulls. Forty severely injured adult dogs had to be euthanized. Custody of the dogs was turned over to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Texas authorities received tips about the dogfight from the HSUS. HSUS activists monitor Web sites and magazines devoted to "game dogs" and alert police when they believe a dogfight is going to take place.
In 2005 Congress was considering legislation that would strengthen existing animal fighting laws. The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (HR 817) would make it a federal felony to move fighting animals across state lines to engage in fights, as well as increase the exhibition or sponsoring of such fights from a misdemeanor to a felony if the animals were transported across state lines. The law would also prohibit selling, transporting, buying, or delivery of any instrument (such as knives and blades) used in cockfighting across state or international borders. The bill was being sponsored by Representative Mark Green, a Republican from Wisconsin ("Urge Your Representative to End Animal Fighting/Support HR 817," ASPCA Advocacy Center, https://secure2.convio.net/aspca/site/Advocacy).
Police and youth groups also are concerned about the rising number of American teenagers involved in dogfighting—particularly inner-city and rural youth, many of whom breed their dogs and make up to $2,000 a year selling the fighting puppies. In her article for National Geographic News, Mott quoted Sandy Christiansen, a program director for the Humane Society of the United States and a former animal control investigator: "My experience mostly has been in an urban environment where the dogs that are being stolen are often used by less sophisticated people who are looking for the thrill of watching their dog beat up another dog." In response to the problem, former animal control officer Sue Sternberg developed an alternative program—called Lug-Nuts and located in New York State—for young people who may be tempted to fight their dogs: weight-pulling contests. In these contests, the strong, muscular dogs that might otherwise be used for fighting are hitched to plastic sleds carrying bags of dog food and are encouraged by their owners to move forward with treats and positive reinforcement rather than violent beatings and drugging. Weight-pulling is considered humane and even fun for the dogs. Winners receive prizes of cash and dog food, and the program encourages owners to spay and neuter their dogs.