In Print: Volume 89: Number 1
By Matthew C. Heger
89 Wash. U. L. Rev. 241 (2011)
Dog Number 118 had no front lips. Her nose was torn and lopsided. Her crooked, broken teeth stood out without protection, constantly exposed to the air. Scar tissue layered her snout. When approached, her handlers warn that she’s “a licker.”
Known to her caretakers as Fay, Number 118 was one of the more graphic surviving illustrations of dogfighting. Press reports describe other dogs as missing ears, legs, and eyes. One puppy was found with “maggots in its lips, nose, legs and tail.” All were rescued in a single series of raids, arresting twenty-six people and seizing more than 500 dogs across eight states. This event in July 2009 was hailed as the largest bust of a dogfighting ring in U.S. history.
“Ring” may be the operative word. Illegal dogfights are not the work of a single law-breaker and instead constitute a form of organized crime. Fights—particularly among avid hobbyists and professional dogfighters—are often highly organized events with spectators, guards, agreed-upon rules, referees, side gambling, prize purses, and sometimes even concession stands. Like any planned event, they require networking, preparation, and coordination between at least two, and typically three or more, parties such as kennels, dog “sponsors,” referees, the fight promoter, and spectators. In this way, dogfights often mark the synchronization of criminal efforts from various players, all linked together through their common purpose of the fighting ring.
In the quest for stronger methods to punish dogfighters, some have suggested turning to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a law originally inspired to combat La Cosa Nostra (“the Mafia”). RICO creates criminal and civil penalties for using certain ill-gotten gains to run, control, or invest in a business or “enterprise.”