Virginia Animal Fighting Bill Wins Final Approval

Legislation toughening Virginia's cockfighting and dogfighting laws is on its way to Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's desk after winning final General Assembly approval Monday.

Without debate, the Senate unanimously passed the measure, which previously had cleared the House of Delegates. Kaine supports the legislation.

Virginia is one of several states where lawmakers are cracking down on animal cruelty after the high-profile Michael Vick case. The suspended NFL star is serving a 23-month federal prison term for running a dogfighting conspiracy in Surry County.

Several of Vick's pit bulls that did not perform well in test fights were executed by hanging, drowning, electrocution and other brutal means.

"After the horrible revelations of the Michael Vick case, I am deeply proud that our state has taken a forceful stand against the depravity of animal fighting," said Robin Starr, executive director of the Richmond chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The bill would make attendance at any organized animal fight, not just dogfights, a felony. It also would allow searches in animal cruelty cases after sunset without obtaining a new warrant and would make it a felony to use any substance or equipment to enhance an animal's ability to fight. Allowing minors to attend an animal fight would be a misdemeanor.

Also, cockfighting would become a felony. Under current law, cockfighting is illegal only if gambling is involved — and then it's just a misdemeanor.

The Humane Society of the United States was among the organizations that lobbied for the legislation.

"Virginia is well on its way to having what we at The HSUS consider to be one of the best animal fighting laws in the country," said John Goodwin, the organization's manager of animal fighting issues.