Dog fighting was a legalized, common practice in the United States prior to the 1800’s, even dating back to the 1750s. And, according to a study by the College of Law of Michigan State University that was published in 2005, dog fighting in the United States remained completely legal, sanctioned and promoted during the 17th century and 18th centuries, and even through the late 19th century.
Sadly, even police officers and firefighters considered dog fighting to be an exciting sport and form of entertainment. From 1800 to 1860, the “Police Gazette” published dog fighting rules. The Gazette reported less and less on news and crimes, and became the primary source of information for dog fighters and anyone who may have been interested in dog fighting.
According to many dog fighting statistics, dog fighting was most popular in the northeastern United States in the 1860s, after the Civil War.
But, in 1867, Henry Bergh, the founder of the ASPCA, revised the New York state law, making all forms of animal fighting illegal for the first time in the United States.
In 1868, (Christopher) Kit Burns was the first man arrested because of dog fighting. he was the proprietor of one of the largest dog fighting pits in New York, called the “Sportsmen’s Hall.” There, he held dog fighting events, fighting dogs against large wharf rats and even other dogs. Burns’ rats and dogs were well-known. The animal cruelty movement, led by Bergh, eventually led to Burns’ arrested. He was fined $800, but all charges were eventually dropped. After Burns’ arrest, dog fighting was driven underground throughout major cities.
As the dog fighting culture continued to grow, so did the opposition. The ASPCA continued to fight dog fighting rings. But, even after the the firsts dog fighting laws were passed, dog fighting continued to flourish in the united States.
Dog fighting became illegal in all 50 states in 1976, but the enforcement remained fairly lax.
By 2008, dog fighting became a state felony in all 50 states. But even then, those convicted of dog fighting, typically only receive a two year sentence. In 2013, the state of Alabama, actually, handed down a sentence of eight years for the second largest dog fighting case in U.S. history.
As of 2014, each of the 50 states have variations on transporting, owning, possessing or selling fighting dogs, as well as causing dogs to fight, gambling on fighting dogs, advertising/promoting dog fighting, attending dog fights and allowing dogs to fight on your premises. In most states, these are felonies.
CNN has estimated that there are about 40,000 individuals in the United States who are involved as professionals in dog fighting as a commercial activity.
Hanna Gibson published a chart of dog fighting laws by state in the Michigan State University College of Law in 2014. This chart breaks down the laws of keeping fighting dogs/instigating dog fights, keeping/owning/possessing fighting dogs, and spectating a dog fight. Check out your state and see where the laws are divided, and fight those that you don’t feel are strong enough.