News 12 at 6 o'clock, May 6, 2008
ACROSS GEORGIA -- Governor Sonny Perdue signed a new law that means tougher penalties for people involved in dog fighting, even if they're just watching.
When Kelly Hart shops for her five dogs, she gets nothing but the best. In fact, that's what they get all the time.
"Human food; they sleep on the bed with me. I can't say no. I can't yell at them really," Hart said.
She says all animals deserve to be well taken care of, and that's why she's so against dog fighting.
"Humans, they fight, they get paid, and they get rewards. The dogs just die. They die slow, painful deaths and it's not right," Hart added.
Now, Georgia is tightening the leash on dog fighting, with a new law. It has tougher penalties for those involved and some say they have former Atlanta Falcons Quarterback Michael Vick to thank.
"It brought it to the forefront of people's minds," Hart said.
A judge sentenced the football star to 23 months behind bars. Since the case, some states have signed tougher laws.
With Georgia now one of those, it may mean good things for the Augusta area.
"There have been a few suspected cases, just haven't been able to prove them," said Diane Downs, Richmond County Animal Services director.
Diane Downs says dog fighting cases were hard to prosecute under the old law, like one from August 2007, when 14 dogs were taken from two homes in Richmond County. Deputies suspected they were being trained and used for dog fighting, but the owners couldn't be convicted under the old law.
"Very difficult if you don't see the animals, you know, fighting as part of the ring," Downs said.
But under the new law, anyone who owns, sells, or trains dogs for fighting faces a felony. The old law never specified dog fighting as a felony at all.
Now, even people who are caught watching dogs fight will be guilty of a crime.
It's all something Hart says will help man's best friend.
"They're things you've taken responsibility for, and half of the people wouldn't treat their children, their houses, or their cars the way some people treat their dogs," Hart said.
The law also says that anyone who bets on or advertises dog fights will face a felony.
The first conviction carries a fine of no less than $5,000 and one to five years in jail.
The law also specifies that it does not apply to dogs used for hunting, competitions, and shows.