A new law that took effect in July made dogfighting a felony in Mississippi. It’s a good law that the state needed in its efforts to stop the cruel treatment of animals.
The law makes it a felony to sponsor a dogfight, to own a dog used for fighting, and to train or transport it for fighting to bet on a fight. It also now is a felony to bet on a dogfight, to buy, sell or own dogfighting paraphernalia, and even to be present at a dogfight. Basically, if you do anything to organize, participate in or even watch a dogfight, you are committing a crime.
Sen. Bob Dearing, D-Natchez, led the effort to get the legislature behind the bill after a 2017 raid of a dogfighting ring in his hometown. He did a good job: the Senate voted 44-7 for the bill and the House backed it 113-1.
Michelle Lombas, the director of the McComb Animal Shelter, has been involved in many rescue efforts around the state. She and her husband were in Gov. Phil Bryant’s office when he signed the bill into law.
Lombas told the McComb Rotary Club that Mississippi, before this year, was attractive to professional dogfight organizers because the state had mild penalties. She hopes that the threat of a felony conviction will make them think twice about what they’re doing.
A first dogfighting conviction can result in a fine of $1,000 to $5,000 and a prison sentence of one to five years. Further convictions increase both the fine and the prison time. Penalties for dogfight spectators are less, but can still include a fine and prison.
The state’s challenge now is to enforce the new law and, frankly, put a few participants in jail for a while.
News about dogfighting rings, like the one raided last year in Natchez, are rare — but the activity surely continues in Mississippi. A few more high-profile interruptions of this meanness that pretends to be sport could convince some dogfighters that the risk of the activity isn’t worth the punishment.