Laws that strengthen the ban on animal fighting were among Washington’s newly minted statutes for 2019. In the Evergreen state now, laws take effect 90 days after the legislative session ends. That was July 28.

Animal fighting laws got more teeth. The crime of animal fighting is now a Class B felony carrying maximum penalties of 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The law covers not only the act of fighting itself, but theft of an animal for fighting or training (bait for fighting animals), and owning or selling paraphernalia associated with animal fighting.

While toughening these laws was important, they could have been better. For people operating in criminal, underground economies, removing their secondary means of conducting that business is vital.

What does that mean? Vehicles transporting fighting animals or paraphernalia should be seized. All cash associated with animal fighting should be seized. Property on which animal fighting occurs should be seized or suspended from commercial activity for prescribed periods depending upon proof of whether the owner knew the activity was occurring.

Over the years, I have heard rumors of dog fighting and cockfighting occurring in both Washington and Idaho. I do not doubt the activities are occurring and that there is a gambling economy at work, too.

There may be other species involved as well. Like what?

Hog-dog fighting is big in the southern U.S. but so are feral swine. While various Washington agencies, such as wildlife and agriculture, aggressively prevent feral swine from gaining a foothold here; that may not prevent people from training dogs here.

Training for such usually takes the form of keeping or capturing feral swine. Their impressive tusks are sawn off. Then the dog and the pig are corralled in a confined space or pit. You can guess the rest.

Last Sunday, Washington also allowed so-called “courthouse facility dogs,” to be with crime victims and witnesses during proceedings. The judge, however, has the difficult task of making sure the animal’s presence does not prejudice any member of the jury.

Something presented in this column a few months ago, pet rent-to-own schemes, has thankfully been outlawed. Known as a “consumer lease,” some dogs and cats were being sold with a payment plan. Typically, these schemes started with low initial payments and ended up with either a repossessed pet or an enormous final price for the animal. When payments aren’t made, the pet is taken from the consumer, which animal advocates argued is inhumane.

Some would argue it is inhumane to both parties, the animal and the people.

Consider the word inhumane for a moment. What exactly does that mean exactly? Good luck getting a legal definition, too.

Consider that the use of various dictionaries is becoming more common in the U.S. Supreme Court, according to an article published in the Marquette University Law Review

The article concludes, “In the twenty-first century, the Court continues to use dictionaries at a high rate with little guidance for parties, lawyers or others regarding when to turn to dictionaries, which dictionaries to use, and how to use dictionaries.”

So go to www.Law.com and try looking up “inhumane.” It’s not there. Black’s Law Dictionary defines the phrase “inhumane treatment,” in the context of divorce as, “Such barbarous cruelty or severity as endangers the life or health of the party to whom it is addressed, or creates a well-founded apprehension of such danger.” But that’s people.

What about animals, considered chattel property, albeit a somewhat specialized form of property? Can one treat them inhumanely? As defined by whom? Where?

Let’s talk more next week.


Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email cpowell@vetmed.wsu.edu.

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