Fighting dog fighting

On Feb. 7, Nancy Lindstrom of Billings Animal Control recounted for Montana legislators the injuries sustained by a dog that she believes was used for animal fighting.

“The wounds were not properly treated, there were new gashes and tears, and they were bleeding and swollen,” Lindstrom said.

Lindstrom talked about her experiences handling animals that had been forced to fight for their owners while testifying in favor of House Bill 279. Sponsored by Virginia Court, D-Billings, the bill would make being an animal-fight spectator a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in prison and a $750 fine.

While it’s already illegal to facilitate such competitions, Montana is the only state that has yet to punish those who attend dog fights and one of seven that hasn’t criminalized cockfight attendance.

During the bill’s Feb. 7 hearing in the House Agriculture Committee, diverse interests joined Lindstrom to support the legislation, including the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, the Humane Society of Western Montana, three Girl Scouts and Yellowstone County Attorney’s Office Prosecutor Ingrid Rosenquist.

Rosenquist shared the myriad challenges that law enforcement and prosecutors have holding animal fight facilitators accountable. Among the primary problems, she said, is the spectator loophole, which allows those responsible for holding animal fights to simply blend in with the crowd when law enforcement arrives.

“These cases are very in-depth to investigate,” Rosenquist said. “They are very slippery.”

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It’s important to recognize, Rosenquist added, that such fights are harmful not just to animals, but to communities as a whole. “There are drugs involved,” she said. “There are massive amounts of guns.” The Senate Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation Committee in 2011 tabled a bill that mirrors HB 279 but aimed to make the spectator offense a felony, rather than a misdemeanor.

While nobody opposed the bill during last week’s hearing, some legislators wondered aloud if Montana has a legitimate problem with animal fighting.

Rosenquist responded to those concerns by saying it is, in fact, an issue in Montana. She recalled two recent law enforcement investigations that, thus far, have reaped no arrests. If the spectator loophole remains open, she said, it will only get worse.

“It’s naive to believe that it’s not happening in our state,” she said.

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