BOISE – A bill that would make staging a dogfight a felony has been shelved so its supporters can spend the coming year finding hard evidence the practice exists.
They plan to return with revised legislation and better proof there are illegal dogfights happening within Idaho borders, said the sponsor, Rep. Tom Trail.
Had there been a vote this session, the House Agricultural Affairs Committee “would not have voted for a felony for a first conviction,” said Trail, R-Moscow.
Idaho is one of only two U.S. states – Wyoming is the other – where staging a dogfight is only a misdemeanor, not a felony. The Humane Society of the United States and other groups had hoped to change the law in Idaho with a bill aimed at people who organize, attend or gamble at an event that uses dogfighting as entertainment.
Last week, several people testified in favor of Trail’s bill, saying illegal dogfights attract other crime, such as drug trafficking, and are cruel to the animals. Seattle-based Humane Society lobbyist Inga Gibson showed the committee a short film of dogs fighting in a blood-spattered pit.
But the committee also heard testimony from people like Stan Boyd, a lobbyist for the state’s sheep farmers, who condemned staged dogfights but worried the bill might entangle his clients if their guard dogs got into a fight with another dog while they were protecting animals.
Several committee members also said they weren’t convinced that illegal dogfighting is a problem in Idaho. Gibson and others testified that it was, arguing that good proof is hard to come by because the sport is clandestine.
On Wednesday, the committee decided to shelve the bill for a year to give Trail and others time to come up with more evidence and to refine the legislation to make it more clear what kind of dogfights are criminal.
“We don’t want to do something that we’re going to be sorry about afterwards,” said committee Chairwoman Frances Field, R-Grand View. Field said she was concerned about making sheep herders liable.
“If you trail the sheep in Hailey, what if some of those sheepdogs got somebody’s dog on the way through?” Field said. “Is that a felony? I want them to clarify that.”
Gibson will work with Trail over the coming months to craft new legislation. She said Wednesday she was disappointed the committee didn’t pass the legislation that was introduced this year.
“It is also unfortunate that the Farm Bureau and cattlemen did not support this legislation,” she said. “Dogs are an integral part of farming and ranching in Idaho. This bill would have protected their dogs … dogs that are often stolen and used for bait and training for dogfighters.”
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