Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

Riverdale Park backs penalties for dogfighting

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The Riverdale Park Town Council voted unanimously Monday night to send a letter supporting legislation introduced in the state Senate that would make it a felony for people to attend dog- or cockfights in the state.

Councilman David Lingua (Ward 3) sponsored the Riverdale Park resolution at the request of the town’s police department and the Humane Society of the United States. Current law states that attending a dog- or cockfight as a spectator is a misdemeanor.

Senate Bill 44, sponsored by Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. (D-Dist. 6) of Dundalk, would change the law to state that a person guilty of attending a dog- or cockfight is subject to no more than three years in prison, a fine up to $5,000 or both. Currently the misdemeanor charge calls for no more than 90 days in prison, a fine up to $1,000 or both.

The bill was heard in the judicial proceedings committee Jan. 16 and a date has not yet been set for a vote.

‘‘The [state] bill makes really good sense,” said Police Chief Teresa C. Chambers, adding there’s a loophole in the existing law. ‘‘People who are caught participating in a dogfight are charged with a felony, but the people who are watching are only charged with a misdemeanor.”

Lingua said whether the spectators are simply waiting for their dogs or chickens to fight or there to place bets on the winners, everyone in attendance should be treated equally.

‘‘I just think it’s wrong to produce an event and put the animals in there involuntarily to fight,” he said.

Lingua said animal fighting is not a problem in Riverdale Park, but that there was a time when cockfighting was suspected because plastic bags with dead chickens had been found along the rail lines.

‘‘At first we weren’t sure if it was Santeria or a cult or cockfighting,” he said, referring to an Afro-Caribbean religious tradition where chickens are often sacrificed. ‘‘But when we opened the bags up and checked the chickens it looked like it was [done by] a cult.”

It’s possible that the bill is in response to the recent conviction of Atlanta Falcons football player Michael Vick for his association with dogfights, Chambers said.

‘‘I think [animal fighting] came to notoriety with that football player who was involved in dogfighting,” Chambers said. ‘‘Supporting the bill is more than symbolic. It’s saying that we value our domestic and farm animals.”

Lingua said it’s important for the town to support the senate bill.

‘‘The fact that we’re behind this shows that we’re not going to tolerate any dogfighting, cockfighting or any animal fighting in town,” he said.

E-mail Maya T. Prabhu at