Members of Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation reacted with horror to the news that a Chester County couple was charged with running a brutal dog fighting ring, saying it underscores the need for the U.S. House to act swiftly on a pending anti-dog fighting bill.
Reps. Pat Meehan and Tom Marino said in a press release that the news reports indicating that the couple tortured and killed dogs and held dog fights in a home with five children is evidence of the need for Congress to approve the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.
The bill, sponsored by Marino, makes it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and imposes additional penalties for taking a minor to such events. The bill - which Eagles quarterback and convicted dog fighting ring leader Michael Vick lobbied for, passed the Senate earlier this month.
the operators had planned to turn the dog fighting operation into "a family business."
With the clock ticking toward the end of the session, the bill still awaits action in the House Agriculture Committee despite wide bipartisan support. Without prompt action before the end of the year, two years of legislative progress will be erased and the bill would have to be reintroduced next year, Meehan and Marino said.
"As former prosecutors we know how critical it is for law enforcement to have all of the tools necessary to deprive the organizers of these horrific events from receiving the financial rewards they need to continue the criminal enterprises," said Meehan and Marino in a statement.
"With passage of this bill, we can give federal prosecutors more ability to crack down on animal fighting and the criminal culture that typically surrounds animal fighting events It is a tragedy that 5 children were being raised in a home so ingrained in crime. We are proud that the bill includes serious consequences for those adults who take impressionable children to animal fights where they witness heinous acts."
Shane Santiago and Laura Acampora, both 33, of West Brandywine, were charged Wednesday with running an illegal dog fighting operation that led to the deaths of at least 10 dogs and the maiming of countless more, according to District Attorney Tom Hogan. Six dogs survived and are being cared for by the Chester County SPCA. Police reports say the couple exposed their children to the fighting because they wanted to make it a "family business."
“When we got into that home what we found was a nightmare,” The Delco Times reported Hogan said. “This was a full scale operation of not only dog fighting, but dog training, dog breeding, and dog killing.”
Investigators launched a probe into dog fighting activity after two pit bulls were found dumped along area roads earlier this year.
Radar, who was found badly mauled in February and left for dead in a roadside ravine, is currently recovering under the care of the Chester County SPCA, the newspaper reported. In September second pit bull was found dead - having been burned alive in its cage, along Route 82 in West Brandywine, near the Santiago's residence.
Animal fighting has long been associated with other criminal activities such as gangs, narcotics, illegal weapons possession, public corruption and various violent crimes. A three-year study by the Chicago Police Department found that 70 percent of animal offenders had also been arrested for other felonies, including domestic and aggravated battery, illegal drug trafficking and sex crimes.
Hogan, at a news conference Wednesday, made a plea for a local and national action to stop dog fighting.
“For the dogs that were held by this defendant, the nightmare is over,” Hogan said. “They are either dead or we have rescued them. But for tens of thousands of dogs across the United States, the nightmare continues. They are still being used for dogfighting.”
Hogan continued, “We are calling on law enforcement, legislators, and the citizens of both Pennsylvania and the United States to stamp out this barbaric sport."
Rep. Jim Gerlach of Pennsylvania is also a co-sponsor of Marino's bill and has worked on bi-partisan legislation to eliminate the inhumane treatment of dogs by cracking down on puppy mill breeder.
"Brutalizing dogs for sport and for profit, whether it is in basement battle pits or row after row of cramped cages inside puppy mills, cannot be tolerated," Gerlach said. "I applaud Chester County law enforcement officials for shutting down this shockingly barbaric dog fighting ring and appreciate the continued efforts of my colleagues from Pennsylvania to give police and prosecutors additional tools to put these blood-sport operations out of business for good."