[Vision2020] Update from Rep. Trail: The mysterious case of the disappearing Pit Bulls

ttrail at moscow.com ttrail at moscow.com
Mon Sep 3 07:27:38 PDT 2007

Dear Constituents:

One of the difficult constraints in getting legislation passed to increase
the penalty on dog fighting from a misdeameanor to a felony has been the
lack of "hard" evidence.  This has been a major complaint of conservative
legislators who oppose the legislation.  It finally looks like we have the
hard evidence needed and it should help us through the legislative process
in getting the felony penalty to be approved by the legislature. 

This article was passed along to me by Dr. Jeff Rosenthal, President of the
Idaho Humane Society.  The owner of the dog fighting operation mentioned in
the article has confessed.

Rep. Tom Trail

Pit bulls disappear
MALAD - Thirty pit bulls discovered Tuesday at an alleged dogfighting
operation disappeared when a deputy who was guarding them left on another
call and remain missing, Oneida County Sheriff Jeff Semrad said Thursday.

Semrad said due to Idaho's current dogfighting laws, which prohibit the
seizing of animals unless there are physical signs of abuse or neglect, law
enforcement officials could not legally impound the 26 adults and four puppies.
The alleged operation was discovered when Oneida County deputies served a
search warrant at 8210 South Old Highway 91 in the Cherry Creek area and
arrested Andy and Tiffany Willard on charges of manufacturing a controlled
substance, with an enhancement because a 3-year-old boy was in the home.

Several marijuana plants and paraphernalia were seized during the raid, he
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Semrad said the Willards, who had a pit apparently used to host dogfights
on their property, will also be charged with dogfighting under the current
misdemeanor law. The maximum penalty for the charge is a $300 fine and six
months in jail.

Idaho and Wyoming are the only states where illegal dogfighting is not a
Andy, 23, and Tiffany, 24, Willard were arraigned Wednesday and bond was
set at $20,000 each. The couple remains in the Caribou County Jail in Soda

Oneida County is working with federal investigators to determine if the
dogfighting operation crossed state lines and if federal charges could be
filed in the case.
Although blood at the scene and other evidence that was confiscated pointed
to dogfighting, Semrad said the dogs at the Willard home appeared to be in
good health, and there was no evidence that they'd engaged in the activity.

An Oneida County deputy maintained surveillance on the residence, but when
he was called to another emergency the dogs were removed from the rural
home sometime Tuesday night.
''I believe my officer was being watched,'' Semrad said. ''When they saw
his lights go on and saw him leave, they took the dogs.''

Semrad said he was hesitant to use county Search and Rescue personnel to
provide surveillance on the suspected dogfighting venue.
''These are dangerous people,'' he said. ''It's easier to infiltrate a drug
ring than a dogfighting ring.''

After a Salt Lake City report named Malad as a dogfighting hub, Semrad said
he visited the Willard property and was able to walk through the kennel area.
The animals housed at the residence were most likely being bred for
fighting, he said. The cost of a purebred pit bull is about $1,800.

Jeff Rosenthal, executive director for the Idaho Humane Society, said the
number of dogs at the Oneida County operation indicates an organized
component. Dogfighting operations usually have ties to gang-related
activity and organized crime.
''There's a lot of money at stake in these operations,'' Rosenthal said.

He was at Thursday's press conference at the Oneida County Courthouse to
raise awareness about dogfighting and the need to enact tougher laws.

Rosenthal said Oneida County officials acted appropriately under the
current law. Idaho's misdemeanor law compels dog owners to pay for the
animal's care after confiscation in a dogfighting case.

Rosenthal said pit bulls can be taught to act aggressively.

''They're highly trainable, they're smart and they're rewarded for
fighting,'' he said.

Rosenthal said a dogfight can last as long as five hours. The dogs fight to
the death or until one animal refuses to fight.

Trainers often collect stray dogs and cats to use as bait during training,
he said.

Oneida County's location on the Utah border and Idaho's current misdemeanor
law, Rosenthal said, makes the rural county a prime site for dogfight

Under current law, Rosenthal said only individuals directly involved in
dogfighting can be prosecuted, spectators cannot be charged.

Legislation to amend the current law was killed three times in committee,
but Rosenthal said the high profile Michael Vick case and the Oneida County
case has brought attention to the issue.

Vick, a quarterback for the Atlanta Falcons, pleaded guilty Wednesday to
funding a dogfighting operation and admitted to have taken part in killing
at least six dogs that performed badly during fights.

Animal Control Director Mary Remer also came to Thursday's the press
conference with members of the Bannock County Humane Society.

Remer said reports about suspected dogfighting operations have increased,
suggesting that the public is becoming more aware of the problem.

When pit bulls are confiscated in suspected dogfighting cases, the animals
must be caged and segregated from other animals, and the breed's high play
drive makes them difficult to control.

Humane Society Board member Sharon Angle said the dogs are not normally
aggressive toward humans.

Angle said the group attended the press conference to learn more about
dogfighting in Southeast Idaho.

''We want to encourage everyone to pass a bill making dogfighting a
crime,'' she said.

Idaho Rep. Donna Boe said the main impediment to getting the law passed was
the belief that dogfighting didn't exist in Idaho.

''Now we know it does,'' she said. ''I think it will be easier to get the
bill passed now. This coupled with the Michael Vick case.''
By Debbie Bryce
This document was originally published online on Friday, August 31, 2007
Rep. Tom Trail
ttrail at moscow.com

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