JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers are giving more teeth to the state's penalties for dogfighting.
Senate Bill 2934 would make participation in dogfighting a felony offense, punishable by a fine up to $5,000. It was sent to Gov. Phil Bryant after Mississippi's House and Senate passed it Tuesday.
Those who promote or stage fights, bet on fights, own a dog with intent to enter it into a fight or own dogfighting paraphernalia could be sentenced to between one and five years in prison. Repeat offenses are punishable by a fine between $5,000 and $10,000, and prison sentences between three and 10 years.
Dogfight spectators could also face felony charges and fines, and prison sentences up to one year.
The move comes months after a November bust of a dogfighting operation in the southwestern Mississippi city of Natchez. The bust garnered national attention after police recovered 54 injured and starving dogs that were fought.
According to The Natchez Democrat, dogs were found with gashes so deep that tendons were exposed, and one dog was missing half its jaw. Several dogs had to be humanely euthanized because of the severity of their injuries. Dog skulls were also found on the property.
Democratic state Sen. Bob Dearing of Natchez is the primary author of SB 2934. Mississippi's current dogfighting laws are some of the weakest in the country, he said, with sentences of one to three years in prison and between $1,000 and $5,000 in fines.
In border cities like Natchez, just across the Mississippi River from Louisiana, Dearing said it's easy for fighters to bring dogs from other states into Mississippi to fight where penalties are laxer.
The original language in Dearing's bill was even tougher, imposing felony charges and fines of $1,000 per dog for sponsors and promoters of dogfights, along with one year in prison per dog involved, up to 25 years. Being a spectator would have been punishable by two-year prison sentences and up to $5,000 in fines.
The sanctions were softened as the bill moved through the Senate and House. Dearing called it a good first step, but he intends to bring another bill next year to seek harsher punishment for dogfighters.
The bill has garnered the support of animal rights activists, including the Humane Society of the United States. In a Wednesday statement, the group urged Bryant to sign the bill.
"This law will give law enforcement additional tools to fight criminal activity and the stiffer penalties will go a long way toward ending the scourge of dogfighting in Mississippi," said Julia Breaux, the group's legislative specialist in Mississippi. "With this vote, the Legislature sent the message that these crimes are serious and will not be tolerated."