In 2012 as an Animal Services Officer I reached out to the Humane Society of the United States to help me investigate dog fighting here in Kalamazoo. With limited resources and training, I knew I needed help and the HSUS stepped in and gave myself and my department all the tools we needed to go after the big names on my list. The HSUS invested $250,000 into investigating and prosecuting dog fighting here in Kalamazoo. The 2012 string of dog fighting raids was a success because of the help of the experts and generous donors of the HSUS.
Michigan has some of the best laws out there to protect animals from fighting and abuse, but it lacks in the ability to punish people who break these laws. Time and time again we have watched dog fighters in Kalamazoo, Detroit, and all over the state get away with minor penalties for felony offenses, and as a result they pick up where they left off and get more dogs to continue.
It's important to know that for people who are fighting dogs, this blood sport is a business, a way of life, and an addiction. It isn't something they'll give up without a compelling reason. A 1-30 day sentence to jail is worth it, because the rewards greatly outweigh the risks.
This game of cat and mouse between law enforcement and dog fighters is maddening, because even though law enforcement may "win" in a legal sense, the offender knows that nothing has really changed, and they can continue as soon as probation is over. In the end, with these cases taking months to years to properly investigate and prosecute, it's hard to justify the effort. The only silver lining is knowing that the dogs we were able to rescue would never know that kind of life again. Getting the dogs out was the only thing that made it worth the time.
After watching Kelvin Thomas receive a slap on the wrist for his 3rd dog fighting offense, we knew something had to change. Our system was broken and needed fixing. Public outrage over the sentencing of Kelvin Thomas made it clear that it was time to take this problem to the next level.
Again, we reached out to our friends at the HSUS and we began working to make changes to the current laws. Senator Margaret O'Brien sponsored these changes that would eventually become bills 413 and 414, and would create mandatory minimum sentences for repeat offenders.
Yesterday I was able to sit in on a hearing before the Senate Judiciary committee regarding bills 413 and 414. The bills passed the Senate unanimously and will continue to move through the legislative process. We hope to have these bills written into the law before the end of 2017 but it could be 2018.
Also introduced was bill 416. Currently, if a humane agency is in custody of a dog that is known to be bred or trained for fighting purposes, it is illegal to adopt those dogs. This goes for puppies, dogs that will not fight and breeding females. In many cases the outcome is euthanasia after spending weeks to months in an animal shelter, as there is no place for these dogs to go unless an out of state agency is able to take them on. Bill 416 would allow humane agencies the ability to adopt out dogs that can safely re-homed. This bill would give the animal victims of dog fighting a chance at a better life, and a chance to become a pet. It is no fault of the dog that they have found themselves in the hands of a dog fighter. Together, bills 413, 414 and 416 make the necessary changes to our existing laws that allow humane law enforcement officers and court workers to effectively manage dog fighters and their animal victims in the aftermath of an investigation.
These bills can be supported individually or together. This is the time to make it clear to our legislators that there is public support for these changes. Please contact your legislator by writing a letter or an email, and express your support for bills 413/414 and 416.
All 3 bills (413, 414 and 416) were passed 4-0 with no objections with a recommendation to be immediately effective. The video below is the recording of that Judiciary Committee hearing at 3:00PM June 6th, 2017. 413, 414 and 416 can be seen from the beginning of the video until 21:08, and voting begins at 44:40.
A Citizens Guide to State Government (2017; Michigan) - This PDF file includes all the information you would need to contact your legislator, and also outlines the process these bills are subject to.
Bill 413 - Details and PDF download of Bill 413
Bill 414 - Details and PDF download of Bill 414
Bill 416 - Details and PDF download of Bill 416