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Dog fighting – forcing dogs to fight till one is dead or too severely injured to fight back – is a felony in all 50 states, according to the Animal Legal and Historical Center at Michigan State University.

Being a spectator at a dogfight also is illegal in 49 states. Montana is the only state that has failed to close this loophole that allows people to profit from horrendous violence against dogs.

This session’s effort to finally make Montana a place where dog fighting and cock fighting attendance is illegal has been introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Richmond, R-Billings. Cosponsors of House Bill 378 are Sens. Doug Kary, R-Billings, and Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder.

The bill would amend the state law against animal fighting to add:

“A person 18 years of age or older who knowingly attends any exhibition in which animals are fighting for the purpose of sport, amusement or gain is guilty of a misdemeanor and may be fined an amount not exceeding $500.”

The present statute already makes clear that “causing animals to fight” doesn’t include accepted husbandry practices in raising livestock or poultry, normal rodeo events or hunting.

Montana’s neighboring states have stiffer penalties for attending animal fight events. In Wyoming, the maximum penalty is six months in jail and a fine of $750. In many states, attending an animal fight is a felony.

“If you don’t have a penalty for being a spectator, everyone becomes a spectator,” Richmond explained in a telephone interview this week. “It’s like a kegger where everyone scatters.”

The bill wouldn’t affect any activities other than the bloody exhibitions of dogs or chickens tearing each other up for the amusement of gamblers.

Fighting dogs are conditioned to fight, often by killing other dogs as bait for practice. In cock fights, a blade or other sharp metal object is attached to the chickens’ legs so they can cause more injury to their opponent birds.

Dog fighting and cock fighting are inhumane. Such activities are counter to the Montana tradition of animal husbandry and caring properly for one’s animals as companions, workers or food sources.

Four years ago, a bill to make animal fight attendance a felony died. Two years ago, a bill with the same penalties as Wyoming law died. This time, the House Agriculture Committee approved HB378. It needs to be scheduled for floor action.

All lawmakers should see the wisdom in this bill. The purpose is to discourage animal fights, and to ensure that. if fights are held, the instigators will be held accountable.

We commend Richmond, Kary and Windy Boy for working to close this loophole in Montana law. We call on other lawmakers to join them in fixing the nation’s most lenient animal fighting law.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.