LOS ANGELES – District Attorney Steve Cooley joined forces today with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and local agencies to crack down on dogfighting, a form of animal cruelty that often goes undetected.
Cooley said the program features a $5,000 reward offered by the HSUS for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of those involved in the illegal activity. Another portion involves use of Los Angeles County’s 2-1-1 line to report mistreatment of animals.
“We think an increased awareness of this cruel so-called sport will help Animal Cruelty Task Force investigators in their efforts to uncover what is believed to be a pervasive underground animal fighting business in Los Angeles County,” Cooley said.
He noted that just last month, a South Los Angeles man was sent to prison for five years for his involvement in a dogfighting ring. During the investigation, 17 pit bulls were confiscated – many underweight and suffering from fresh wounds – along with training equipment. The case came from a tip from a member of the public.
“Animal fighting not only promotes the mistreatment and killing of animals, it also makes communities vulnerable to byproduct crimes such as illegal gambling, assault, drugs and weapons,” Cooley said. “It is also widely recognized that those who abuse animals are more likely to engage in violence against humans.”
While the HSUS’ dogfighting rewards program is not new, for many years the standing reward was $2,500. Last summer, a $200,000 donation from the Holland M. Ware Charitable Foundation allowed the organization to double its monetary reward, providing a more substantial incentive to would-be tipsters.
Since re-launching the program in October 2007, the HSUS has partnered with a number of agencies, including the attorneys general of Connecticut, South Carolina, Ohio and New Hampshire, the Chicago Police Department and the Georgia Sheriff’s Association. The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is the first local prosecutorial agency in the nation to team with the HSUS.
“We are thrilled to have the support of District Attorney Steve Cooley on this important issue,” said Eric Sakach, West Coast Regional Office director for the HSUS. “Dogfighting destroys communities as well as animals. It’s the last thing Los Angeles needs.”
Deputy District Attorney Deborah Knaan, animal cruelty case coordinator, was instrumental in bringing together the agencies involved. In her role as animal cruelty case coordinator, Knaan has not only raised public awareness, she also has created guidelines on prosecuting animal cruelty cases and trained prosecutors and law enforcement officers on how to investigate and prosecute animal abuse.
“It is cruel to force animals to fight without any means of escape,” Knaan said. “Those engaged in dogfighting are using animals for personal gain with no regard for whether the animals are severely injured or killed. We are hoping that the reward will give people an incentive to report – and help us prevent and prosecute – dogfighting.”
To make a report, tipsters may call 2-1-1, the county’s 24-hour information line. Maribel Marin, 2-1-1 LA County executive director said, services are provided in English, Spanish and more than 140 languages via a tele-interpreting service. Additionally, 2-1-1 is accessible via cell phones. Callers will be routed to their local law enforcement agency.
Evidence of dogfighting may include dogs with injuries, keeping dogs on heavy chains or placing weights around their necks, training dogs on treadmills, and unusual comings and goings at a particular location.
The District Attorney’s Office also works closely with the Los Angeles City Animal Cruelty Task Force – comprised of police department and animal services personnel – to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty cases, including animal fighting.
Lt. Anthony Lomedico of the Los Angeles Police Department said the Animal Cruelty Task Force believes the initiative will foster more community involvement and, in turn, generate investigative leads.
“The Animal Cruelty Task Force appreciates the continued support and efforts of both the HSUS and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office in combating animal bloodsport and related criminal activity,” Lomedico said.