The morning after convicted dogfighter Michael Vick played in his first regular season Eagles' game, the state Attorney General's Office and the Humane Society of the United States announced that they are partnering to offer $5,000 rewards for tips leading to the arrest and conviction of dogfighters.

This year alone, more than 400 dogfighting complaints were received statewide, up from 245 in all of 2008, Attorney General Tom Corbett said yesterday. About 40,000 people are believed to be involved in dogfighting across the country, he said.

The Humane Society's reward program, funded by a private endowment, has been in place at the national level for two years and has paid out nearly $160,000 to more than 50 tipsters, said Sarah Speed, Humane Society state director.

Corbett is the 19th attorney general in the country to partner with the program, and his support sends a strong message throughout the state that dogfighting will not be tolerated, Speed said.

"I'd like to thank Attorney General Corbett for being tough on criminals but soft on animals," she said.

Corbett denied that the timing of the announcement had anything to do with Vick's playing Sunday.

"This was scheduled in our office months ago, before he even made that commitment," Corbett said. "Sports figures always bring something to the national attention. . . . So it's nice, it's coincidental it works out this way."

Both dogfighting and watching it are felonies in Pennsylvania, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. Corbett said that only eight states have more stringent dogfighting laws than Pennsylvania's.

"It's a blood sport that promotes crime - not only cruelty to animals but violence against people," he said. "It is surrounded by a culture of illegal gambling and drug dealing and gangs and guns and other violent crimes."

Corbett said that children who are exposed to dogfights can be forever shaped by the cruelty they witness.

"The experience of such violence can train the young mind into believing that a culture of violence against animals and others is acceptable," he said.

Prosecution of dogfighting cases typically falls to local district attorneys, though Corbett said that his office could prosecute cases in which there is a conflict of interest, a lack of resources or a connection to a multicounty drug organization.

Those with tips on dogfighting or dogfighters can call their local police department or the Humane Society's tip line at 1-877-TIP-HSUS.