TRENTON, NJ - Gov. Chris Christie signed into law today legislation sponsored by Senators Tom Kean and Raymond Lesniak to create criminal offenses for dog fighting and leading dog fighting networks, and amend the RICO statute to include dog fighting.

“As authorities have attested and recent cases have shown, dog fighting is a barbaric crime that often extends far beyond animal murder or cruelty,” said Senator Kean. “Weapons and narcotics are frequently found at the scene of a fight, posing a threat to the safety and security of the community at large. Amending current racketeering laws to include dog fighting will give law enforcement the tools they need to combat this pervasive underground industry, where dangerous individuals bet tens of thousands of dollars on a single fight, as innocent animals suffer, starve and die in horrifyingly inhuman conditions.”

The bill, S-736, would establish dog fighting as a third-degree crime, punishable by 3 to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $15,000. The legislation would also establish leading a dog fighting network as a second-degree crime, punishable by 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $150,000.

“Dog fighting is an inhumane practice that exploits the natural allegiance of dogs to humans in brutal fights that cause injury and even death,” said Senator Lesniak. “Dog fighting is a crime and it should be treated that way and those who train dogs to fight and organize dog-fighting rings should be held accountable for their actions. They are doing it for their entertainment or to make money. They are trying to 'make a sport' out of the brutal treatment of animals who are 'man's best friends.’ This new law will upgrade penalties so that the law meets the severity of the crimes.”

The legislation also includes provisions to protect dog fighting survivors. Those convicted under S-736 could be mandated to pay restitution to cover the cost of housing and medical treatment for the animals harmed as a result of dog fighting. Any property relating to the criminal enterprise could also be seized. The court could also prohibit those convicted from having future custody of an animal.

“The signing of this law sends a strong message that these inhumane, tragic crimes will not be tolerated in the State of New Jersey,” Senator Kean said. “The ruthless criminals who mercilessly force innocent animals to become prize-fighting killers must be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. By upgrading penalties for dog fighting, we are saving the lives of countless animals and rescuing families from the hidden dangers of living in a community exposed to violent crime.”