Spectating at dogfights: Still legal thanks to…rodeo?

Kathleen Stachowski      Other Nations

Can you think of one animal species with whom you’d willingly trade places? Me neither. It’s a bum rap to be a nonhuman animal in a speciesist world, and here in Montana, brutality toward animals is a way of life. Just ask the bobcat thrashing in a trap, the calf viciously clotheslined by the neck in a rodeo roping event, or any coyote who’s the object of a killing contest. “We’re at your mercy,” they might tell us, “and mercy went missing a long time ago.”

On Valentine’s Day, the 200th wolf was killed in the state-sanctioned slaughter (track here), designed to reduce–by projectile and by trap–a population of 600-some animals–even along national park boundaries.   The “Dog Days of Winter Coyote Derby,” held earlier this month in Dillon, was “a fun way to spend a winter weekend and help manage the coyotes in the area,” according to organizers. Most people know by now that killing coyotes doesn’t “manage” their numbers, proving that these folks have some catching-up to do…or that it really IS all about bloodlust. Montana is responsible for shipping to slaughter thousands of America’s last wild bison in deference to the livestock industry. Kids are encouraged to kill and are sometimes celebrated when they do.

Really, though, owing to the Treasure State’s frontier heritage, abundant wildlife, and rural and agricultural nature, brutality here is more a difference of degree than kind. Montana–sadly–isn’t all that different from other places when it comes to speciesism. It’s a human thing.

But in spite of the thousands of traps scattered across our landscapes and the death sentences imposed on beloved national park wildlife species, Montana has found a way to distinguish itself even in this bloody horror show. Just last week, legislators on the House Agriculture committee tabled (killed) House Bill 279, which would have closed a loophole in state statute by making spectating at dogfights a misdemeanor. That’s right, dogfighting. It’s a felony in all 50 states, but Montana is the ONLY one where spectating is still legal–placing it dead last in a ranking of state dogfighting laws.

At the outset of the 40-minute hearing, House Agriculture Committee Chair Lee Randall (R-Broadus) asked for a show of hands from proponents of the bill; when many shot up, he noted the bill’s “overwhelming support.” No hands were raised when he asked for opponents. None.

By my count, 14 supporters stood to speak. They included a representative of the Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (it’s a public safety issue, he emphasized); a Yellowstone County prosecutor; animal control officers–including a cruelty investigator; a representative of the Montana Veterinary Medical Association; ordinary citizens–including one who has rescued a fighting dog and has committed to a grueling retraining program; a Montana representative from the Humane Society of the U.S. (see their dogfighting fact sheet); and three awesome Cadette Girl Scouts and two leaders from Lone Rock School (Stevensville, MT) Troop 3756. “We teach our Scouts to speak out and take action when they see something that needs to be changed,” said their proud leader.

Testimony frequently focused on the criminal element–the drugs, weapons, and gambling–that accompanies dogfighting. Fight organizers “hide” behind spectators when fights are raided, making prosecutions difficult. “Without spectators,” testified one officer, “there would be no sport.” Spectators bring children along, asserted another.

Dog Fighting: The Voiceless Victims

This was not the first attempt at closing the spectator loophole; two years ago, a similar bill attempted to make spectating a felony, but the Senate Agriculture Committee felt that penalty was too stiff and tabled the bill. In this iteration, spectating was a misdemeanor, but the bill was still tabled. Why?

Montana legislators who serve agricultural interests will sell even “man’s best friend” down the river if they perceive the slightest slippery slope; this is why attempts to regulate puppy mills fail every time. Today it’s dogs–tomorrow it’s sheep. Today it’s dogs–tomorrow it’s rodeo stock. In fact, Rep. Mike Lang (R-Malta) questioned the prosecutor on that very point: “While I don’t support dogfighting, or any animal fighting that way, one question I had here…we heard a lot about dogs…and this pertains to all animals, I want your legal opinion…if in a rodeo a Brahma bull decides to take on one of the pick-up men’s horses and that becomes an animal fight, what is gonna happen to the rodeo spectators and the rodeo event?”

Yes, he really did ask that. And in the end, it was Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel), a veterinarian and climate change denier, who moved to table the bill in executive action. “This is the first step down a very slippery slope,” he maintained; “if you just try to argue uh, uh, the grey area of animals used for fighting or animals suffering, uh, let’s say in a rodeo event, uh, we’re there. Uh, we’re there. So I think this is a dangerous direction we don’t want to go and I make a substitute motion to table the bill.” In a 10-7 vote, with all six Democrats on the Ag Committee joined by one Republican opposing the motion, spectating at criminal dogfights remains legal in Montana.

I would like to send Representatives Kerns, Lang, and the other eight Republican legislators responsible for suppressing this humane, common-sense bill a one-way ticket to the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C., where a temporary exhibit on dogfighting– “The Voiceless Victims” –is on display. I’d like our illustrious state legislators to see the tools of the violent, criminal trade they again enabled in Montana–including a “rape stand used to immobilize female dogs for breeding purposes; (and) an electrocution device used to kill dogs who lost a fight or failed to show sufficient aggression toward other dogs.” I would like to insist they watch this 4-minute, 56-second video on dogs rescued from a huge, criminal operation in 2009. I want them to see the suffering–and if they don’t care about suffering (and I suspect they don’t)–I’d like to ask them how hard they think it is to get away with similar felony operations in Montana’s vast, empty spaces. It was easy enough–at least for awhile–in rural Missouri (2-minute video).

Most of all, I would like to see these 10 legislators held fully accountable before the Girl Scouts from Troop 3756–girls who were horrified to learn about dogfighting and the lack of consequences for spectators in Montana; young women who felt so strongly that they traveled 150 miles to Helena to advocate for exploited dogs in the halls of their state government. In what should have been a slam dunk against crime and animal abuse, I want to hear these public servants admit why they chose to accommodate felons and abandon heinously-abused dogs: to ensure that business-as-usual animal cruelty continues unimpeded in Montana.

Three additional resources (of many): “Dog fighting detailed discussion” from Michigan State University College of Law; Detroit Dog Fighting Caught on Video – Fox News broadcast video, 7 min., 21 sec.; ASPCA’s Dog Fighting FAQ

13 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Animal Connection.

  2. I’ve always purposely avoided looking at photos or videos of dogs fighting, so that vicious shot took me by surprise. I had to block it with my hand in order to get through the first paragraph. Though I usually check out all the HYPERlinks, today I couldn’t bring myself to open even one of them; I would’ve HYPERventilated. 😦

    (I’m sure if it were a photo of a coyote caught in a trap or a bison shot in the heart or a deer or a bear or an elk or a mountain lion or any other innocent creature whose life were being violated by a predator WHO DID NOT NEED TO KILL TO SURVIVE, I would feel the exact same horror and disgust.)

    The Montana legislators — especially the so-called veterinarian (where were all the other vets in your state who should’ve showed up and shouted Kerns’ cowardly remarks into the gutter where they belonged?) — ought to be bloody ashamed of themselves.

    I hope the brave Girl Scouts of Troop 3756 show up at the offices of their (un)representatives holding the leash of a sweet rescued-from-fighting pit bull in one hand and before-and-after photos clutched in the other. And I hope they turn this temporary defeat into a huge crusade, the likes of which those sorry legislators have never seen and will never forget. Go get ’em, girls!

    P.S. Girls, if you’re reading this, please pay a visit to (and maybe even volunteer at!) New Dawn Montana Animal Sanctuary in Stephenville. There are some charming residents there who would love to meet you and express their gratitude for your kindness! 🙂

  3. After such knowledge, what forgiveness? I can think of about a dozen far more drastic things I’d like to have happen to Kerns et al. They give vileness a bad name.

    Dog in second pic looks exactly like my beloved.

    Excellent, unbearable piece, as always

  4. Maybe they’ll think twice when a trained and conditioned fighting dog escapes his miserable “dog yard” and practices his skills on a passing dog-walker? Nope, still won’t happen. Just a tragic “oopsie.” I wonder if any of these legislators are secretly involved in the dogfighting biz.

  5. There are similar issues in Idaho. I asked a couple of Idaho legislators point-blank if they’d ever been to a dog fight. Two of them admitted they had, though one claimed it was only as a child when his uncle conducted them. What do they say about birds of a feather?

    These good ole’ boys and gals just don’t have the ethic, and since many are ranchers and farmers, I suspect they condone dog and cock fights because it keeps their exploited illegal laborers happy. It adds to their bottom line, you know.

    As far as veterinarians go, they should be at the forefront of advocacy for animal welfare. I’ve learned to be discerning here in Idaho. Some of the vets here are the worst animal exploiters that exist, an astonishing and disgusting contradiction.

  6. Hi Kathleen – I’ve tried several times too to pick just one species that wasn’t exploited… Who would I come back as? I thought it was the Florida anoles. They’re everywhere – And who the heck could benefit from harming them? Well, I didn’t know before but sometimes their captured and drowned as “live bait” – And there was a short lived fashion where they were tied by the neck and worn as living jewelry. We’re sick.

    The betrayal to the dogs disgusts me. Obviously “law” in Montana must avoid that slipper-slope to reason and compassion by any means. Even while appearing to be (for lack of better words) heartless idiots! Guess they’re related to the extreme right here in Florida that doesn’t want offer any protection to manatees for fear that it would deny humans other “rights”: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/animals/blogs/florida-tea-party-fighting-against-manatees Yep – If you make it illegal to harass sea mammals one day – The next day they’ll take away your businesses.

    What a mess for all creatures – Poor dogs — Poor lizards — And everyone in between. 😦

  7. Thank you all for your insightful comments and contributions. A couple things came to mind immediately. One, 19peace80 mentioned the possibility of a fighting dog getting loose and attacking an innocent passer-by, and the fact that the legislators wouldn’t feel any responsibility for that (agreed). What WOULD happen, though, would be a condemnation of the breed, an extermination of the offending dog and perhaps all dogs of that breed within the jurisdiction, and a call for breed-specific legislation. How many times have we seen this play out?!?

    Provoked, I recall seeing (and loving) those funky little lizards down there in FL. But manatees as a tool of Agenda 21… unreal. Un-friggin-real.

  8. No, bans wouldn’t happen, because that would hurt the breeders’ wallets, and heaven forbid we punish anyone making a buck off animals’ misery.

  9. […] busted. Any day now we expect the House Agriculture committee–the same legislative body that stuck it to fighting dogs in February–to stick it to puppy mill dogs (and cats) in March. Minimal humane standards for […]

  10. A response worth sharing–posted to a shorter version of this blog post published in the Bitterroot Star:

    I have a dream. Battles are being fought all over the U.S. to halt dog fighting. I have tried, in vain, in the South to get dog fighting stopped in a neighborhood for over 2 years with no interest in doing such by the local city management and law enforcement; The dream is, that since MONTANA wants dog fighting, why not the other 49 States round up all their dog fighters and spectators and FORCE them to move to MONTANA, taking with them all their tons of drugs, all their tons of guns, all their prostitutes and all their organized crime. Republicans in Montana want dog fighting, let them have it all and the problems that go along with it…including needing something else to do once all the Montana folks get finished making wolves extinct there again because of their pleasure for killing them. Dog fighting, wolf killing just to kill…BOTH CRUELTY. PACK UM UP, MOVE UP TO MONTANA, and then we can stop the BSL that is in the other 49 States and (let) Montana deal with what they have created. Only fair, wouldn’t you say?


  11. […] Spectating at dogfights: Still legal thanks to…rodeo? […]

  12. This is sick.disgusting. Disgraceful.

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