Saturday, April 12, 2008

Part I: The Power of Language

Interesting happenings in Sacramento: A new bill is asking lawmakers to grant authorities the right to seize & sell property used for dog fighting. SB 1775

The ACLU has come out against the bill in a big way. We aren't sure what to think of it ourselves. How will this affect property owners who unknowingly rent to dog fighters? Does this mean landlords will be even less likely to rent to dog owners?

Photo: Senator Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) announcing bill. Brian Baer,

One upshot: The bill allows monies collected from seized properties to be used to reimburse law enforcement and humane investigators AND to care for the animals in the shelters and rescue groups. Hey, thanks guys.

(3) To local nonprofit organizations exempt under Section 501(c)
(3) of the Internal Revenue Code whose primary activities include
ongoing rescue, foster, or other care of animals that are the victims
of dogfighting...

We're not sure how realistic it would be to move those dollars, but we appreciate the language that identifies the dogs as victims. This signals a change in how legislators see exploited animals like pit bulls. As far as we know, this is only the second time this distinction has been spelled out in official documents. The first was when Judge Hudson ordered Vick to pay restitution for the "care and maintenance of the victim pit bull dogs." Yay, progress.

But Calderon loses ground when he slips some moldy myths into his bill:

(5) Dogfighting not only encourages and furthers antisocial values
and violence but it also results in the antisocialization of dogs
thereby making them a danger to the community at large. Police
officers, firefighters, utility, and other municipal workers are at
increasing risk in the course of their employment on both public and
private property because of the epidemic number of dogs that have
been bred and trained to fight each other as well as other animals,
small children, and adults.

THUD. Fighting dogs..."Trained to fight small children and adults?" Ohhhhh brother.

We're pleased that Sacramento is looking out for fight victims and their caretakers, but the language is painfully damaging to the mission of helping those victims. Two steps forward, three steps back.


Kirsten said...

Oh jeez, talk about contradictory language... Monies to rehabilitate 'victims' = good. Acknowledging that dogfighting is a big bad = also good.

And then it all falls apart. Dog fighting is bad enough without needing to embellish the topic with wild misinformation. People just can't stop blaming the dogs, even after they've been appropriately labelled victims. I look forward to the day when pit bulls stop being the stuff of urban myth, and the responsibility of animal abuse rests solely where it belongs, on the abusers!!

No BSL said...

Is that a real picture or is that photo-shop magic?
The language kills me also.
Almost every good article is ruined by adding a little something at the end.
There was a good article about Diane from LawDogs going to assess dogs but the author couldn`t resist throwing in one of those coulda, woulda, shoulda comments about a possible "bloody conflict" if 2 dogs weren`t separated by a fence??
Is that really necessary?

Anonymous said...

This is slippery slope legislation of the worst kind.

First of all, the horrific crime of dogfighting, already a felony in most states, is not nearly so common as some would have people believe. There are laws on the books to deal with it. If they're serious, they should make it a higher priority to bust these people.

Secondly, what is 'dogfighting equipment'? Do they include benign items such as treadmills, springpoles, etc? Lots of people use both to condition their dogs during winter, etc. They have treadmills set up in the doggy play area at Westminster - and all the pups seem to know how to use them.

This sounds like a Rico type of thing, balance of probabilities rather than distinct burden of proof and on principle, I'm opposed to those kinds of laws because they are rigged in favour of the State.

I suspect this is nothing but theatre for the cheap seats, as well as a way to help certain orgs increase their fundraising efforts. And of course, a legislator wants to look like a gunslinger to his constituents.

This is what happens when people who know next to nothing about a subject try to legislate, as shown by the ridiculous language used to describe dogs.

Somebody's been whispering in this guy's ear and I doubt the agenda is as savoury as it should be.

I never take these kinds of announcements at face value. But you knew that.

Anonymous said...

these kinds of laws are NOTHING but bad news.
The dog community needs to get its head on straight and oppose them from the beginning, rather than trying to "bargain" them down into something they think is reasonable.

Inder-ific said...

I'm a local pit bull owner here in Oakland, and I also happen to be a local government lawyer. I try to keep up with California legislation that might affect pit bull owners ...

I agree that the bit about dogs being trained to fight small children is ludicrous, but I think there is more good here than bad, overall. Not only does the bill recognize dogs as victims of dog fighting (a huge step, people!), but it provides a needed source of revenue that will encourage more local agencies to make breaking up dog fighting rings a priority. In local law enforcement, funding is everything.

As far as landlords, the bill provides as follows:

"The judgment of forfeiture shall not affect the interest of
any third party in real property that was acquired prior to the
recording of the lis pendens."

This is a nice bit of legalese, but I read this to say that a landlord's real property will not be forfeit - you can't take a house from a landlord - unless the landlord was involved in the crime. It would also protect grandma, who owns the house but was unaware of her grandson's fighting, etc.

I agree, it seems pretty extreme to take anyone's house for a crime - but in my experience, home-forfeiture only occurs in the absolute worst case scenarios. Right now, a home can be forfeit if the owner engages in serious drug dealing - so this seems at least as fair as that! And the law may have some deterrent effect.

But don't hold your breath - these bills are generally rewritten a buzillion times before they go for a vote, and it still has two legislative votes and the governor to survive. Most bills come to nothing, or if they are adopted, are pale shadows of their former selves. It'll be interesting to see what happens with this one ...

Anonymous said...

If you haven't already, contact Calderon's office. Talk to the aide responsible for the bill and get your questions answered. Express your concerns and find out if it's possible for language to be modified.

Alternatively, if you know any of the legislators on the Public Safety Committee, call them up too.

It's going to be heard 4/15 in pub safety - amendments are generally common with animal bills (w/ most bills, really). If there aren't a lot of people testifying, you can also send reps to testify. It's too late to register a position that would show up on the analysis, but you can still contact the author and committee members via phone, fax or email w/ your position.

The other dogfighting bill, AB 2281 (Nava) passed first committee. In its original form, it would have made spectating at a dog fight a felony. Committee members aren't fond of increasing penalties b/c of the three strikes law and prison overcrowding, so unfortunately the language was amended to make spectating a wobbler. Spectators could be charged with either a misdemeanor (current law) or a felony if 2281 passes.

Anonymous said...

I agree strongly with Inder-ific and Rinalia. In MN we just beat back a proposed ban. We were lucky, but we also had a ground operation in place for at least nine months to fight it (you all have this too), our animal control people are on our side (I believe that you have this as well) and we had an alternative bill to support. As far as #3 goes, if you have a sympathetic legislator who is willing to introduce amendments to this bill and follow it through, you'll be in good shape. What I'd suggest is finding out which committee hears the bill next and find out who's on that committee. Then a constituent talks to one of the legislators, while everybody else (like, thousands of people) call (not email) ALL of the legislators on that committee with talking points on the recommended new language. This primes the committee to hear what you need them to hear. Then you do the calling with the next committee. If you have an amendment, even better.
Sorry for such a long post, but this technique was extremely effective here in MN. I agree, it's a scary slippery slope bill and I wish you all luck in jumping on it early.

Donna said...

Thanks for all the comments. Our legal beagle Christine Allen dropped a line to say that - even though the 'fighting children' (heh!) language was removed - this bill failed to get enough votes to make it out of committee. She'll keep an eye out to see whether it makes a come back.

To be honest, we weren't feeling the Yippee Yahoo Take-Their-Property vibe. Dog fighting is not nearly as big an issue as other forms of abuse in this state, and the areas that do have it can use CA's new anti-chaining ordinance to move known dog fighters along. We're rather see humane officers not get derailed from issues like starvation, beatings and setting dogs on fire --- You know, the everyday 'normal' stuff that happens in our lovely big cities.

We do appreciate the more progressive language that sees dogs as victims, though. That's a much better direction.