Governor Chris Christie took time from his presidential campaign to sign a bill that will crack down on dog fighting in the state by imposing tough new penalties on those found guilty of crimes related to the illegal activity.
The new law will now add dog fighting activities to existing anti-racketeering statues, ultimately making running a dog fighting ring punishable by as much as 10 years in prison.
Even those who simply participate in a dog fighting event, by watching or betting on the fights, could potentially draw prison sentences of three to five years under the new statutes, and those penalties could rise if racketeering charges are also pursued.
The leaders of dog fighting rings could also face fines of up to $150,000 in addition to their prison time.
Under the new law, those found guilty of running rings may also be forced to pay for the care of animals harmed through their fight operations.
Judges will also have the option of banning those involved in dog fighting from owning animals in the future.
Crackdown on Dog Fights Welcomed
The move was praised by those who work with animals as an important step towards eliminating dog fights in the state.
“New Jersey’s legislature and governor have made it clear that dog fighting will not be tolerated in our state,” said Kathleen Schatzmann, New Jersey state director for the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement. “We applaud [State Senator Tom Kean Jr. (R-Union)] for introducing this measure as a powerful deterrent to anyone involved in such a despicable bloodsport.”
Kean was equally pleased to see that the governor had signed his bill into law.
“The ruthless criminals who mercilessly force innocent animals to become prize-fighting killers must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Kean said in a statement. “By upgrading penalties for dog fighting, we are saving the lives of countless animals and rescuing families from the hidden dangers of living in a community exposed to violent crime.”
Rash of Dog Fighting Cases Prompts Action
The legislation was actually introduced over a year ago, but became a priority after recent events in New Jersey.
This March, investigators broke up a dog fighting ring in Elizabeth after a traffic stop, which led to the discovery of 17 dogs found in the van that was stopped, as well as in the homes of various suspects.
According to authorities, most of the dogs were being kept in small, dirty cages, and several had obvious injuries when they were rescued. The dogs were placed in rehabilitative care centers in New Jersey.
Ultimately, nine people were indicted in the case last month, including Algernon Norville, who faces four counts related to dog fighting.
Another case from last May involved a dog fighting ring busted in Paterson. Authorities conducted a raid that led to the rescue of three dogs, though two were later stolen from the shelter where they were being held.
That case led to the arrest of Michael Coleman, who faces animal cruelty charges. He could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, as his case deals with events that took place before the new bill was signed.
“It’s too bad the law we have now was not in effect then, because now we finally have a law that has some teeth in it,” said John DeCando, chief animal control officer for the city of Paterson.