Politics

The wording of legislation intended to curb dogfighting in Kentucky may have the opposite effect, making the prosecution of dogfighters more difficult, critics say.

The bill would ban owning, training and breeding dogs for the “primary purpose” of dogfighting, making it a class D felony. The state Senate unanimously approved the legislation last week.

But prosecutors would have difficulty proving that a dog spent its time “primarily” dogfighting, said Rob Sanders, the Kenton County commonwealth’s attorney.

“I think it’s basically impossible that the dog could do more fighting than anything else,” Sanders said. “A criminal defendant could claim that the primary purpose — which is whatever the dog does the most of — which could be lying around the kennel for all we know.”

The bill would exempt owners with dogs engaged in hunting, field trials, or dog training authorized by a hunting license or the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Also exempted would be activities sanctioned by the American Kennel Club, the United Kennel Club “or other accredited national organizations.”

Kathryn Callahan, the Kentucky director for the Humane Society, said the bill creates a loophole for dogfighting operations if they have paperwork from any national association.

“They could claim that many of their actions are accredited. So, therefore, you are effectively saying that their activities could be considered legal,” Callahan said.

Dogfighting is already a class D felony in Kentucky, but prosecuting dogfighters is difficult because law enforcement “has to catch them in the act,” Callahan said.

“Due to the clandestine nature of dogfighting, it’s virtually impossible to do so even if there’s a raid. People will step back and say ‘it’s not my dog,’” Callahan said.

Anti-dogfighting legislation has been proposed for the last several years in the General Assembly, but the bills have languished amid concerns from hunters’ rights groups.

The original version of this year’s bill didn’t have the “primary purpose” language and exemptions for activities sanctioned by accredited organizations. Once amended, the new version passed the state Senate last week.

Doug Morgan, president of the Kentucky Houndsmen Association, said he supports the bill because it punishes criminals while protecting hunters.

“If you take two dogs and you all go out hunting and your dog gets in a scrap, you shouldn’t be a felon,” Morgan said. “But if you show up someplace to fight two dogs on purpose for the primary purpose to fight them, you should go to jail.”

Sen. Paul Hornback, a Republican from Shelbyville and the bill’s sponsor, said he’s confident dogfighters will be curtailed under the legislation.

“I think it’s a lot better than what we used to have, which was nothing,” Hornback said.

The bill now heads to the state House. Speaker Greg Stumbo, a Democrat from Prestonsburg, said has concerns.

“I’ve asked staff to take a look at it, to get with some commonwealth’s attorneys and anyone else who might have had to prosecute one of these cases to see if we can clean that wording up,” Stumbo said.

Rep. Ron Crimm, a Republican from Louisville, and Rep. Wilson Stone, a Democrat from Scottsville, have proposed their own version of the bill.

Their legislation would make it a class D felony to own, breed, train or sell a dog “for the purpose of that dog being used to fight another dog for pleasure or profit.” Dogs used to guard livestock would be exempt.

Ryland Barton is the Managing Editor for Collaboratives.