Louisiana lawmakers rejected proposal to deter euthanasia of dogs from dog fights

Legislators to study placement of dogs from dog fights in new homes

By: - June 22, 2021 6:00 am
Louisiana Capitol Building

The Louisiana Legislature ended its regular session Thursday. (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue)

Louisiana lawmakers killed a bill during the legislative session that was intended to deter the euthanization of dogs seized at dog fights.

Supporters of House Bill 231 pulled the proposal once it became clear it wouldn’t get through the Senate Agriculture, Aquaculture and Rural Development Committee. Veterinarian associations opposed the legislation, though they didn’t explain their concerns publicly and didn’t testify at hearings about the bill. 

In lieu of passing the legislation, the Louisiana House of Representatives will conduct a study of what to do with dogs from dog fights. The study report will have to be delivered to the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice by Feb. 1, 2022. 

Dog fighting is already illegal in Louisiana, as well as every other state in the country. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge, would have required law enforcement officers to confiscate all dogs found at a dog fight and have them evaluated by a veterinarian, animal advocacy group or animal control employee for potential adoption. 

There were conflicting characterizations of what is required under the current law.

Advocates said the current state law mandates that all dogs found at a dog fighting event — whether they were participating in a fight or not — must be euthanized. They said that means dogs who aren’t dangerous are put to death without good reason.

But Department of Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain said the current law does not require all dogs found at a dog fight to be euthanized. The law only requires law enforcement officers to take “fighting dogs” from the dog fight. That doesn’t necessarily include dogs that may be on the sidelines and uninvolved. 

A dog’s fighting status also “may cause them to be humanely euthanized” as soon as possible — but it’s not required. Instead of euthanisia, a dog can be held for potential return to the owner if the owner is not convicted of animal cruelty. If the owner is convicted of animal cruelty — or isn’t interested in having the dog back — then the dog can be euthanized or adopted by another family, according to current state law. 

The confusion over what the current law requires may stem from 2018 news reports of a dog fighting bust in East Baton Rouge Parish. WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge reported that all of the dogs found at the fight — eight females, eight males and three puppies — were euthanized shortly after being confiscated. 

Advocates held up this incident as an example of why the law needed to be changed. In other states, dogs taken from similar dog fights have been successfully adopted and placed with families. 

Marcelle’s bill would have delayed the euthanasia of dogs found at dog fighting events and increased opportunities for adoption. Dogs could no longer be euthanized “as soon as possible” under the legislation. They could only be put to death after going through an evaluation about whether the dog was suitable for adoption. Even if they were found to be dangerous, the euthanasia couldn’t happen for at least 15 days.

Under Marcelle’s bill, any potential new owners of the dogs would have had to be notified that the dogs were found at a dog fight. The legislation also required dogs to be microchipped and sterilized before adoption. Those requirements aren’t in place currently.

If Marcelle’s bill had passed, advocates said they understood that some dogs found at dog fights would still have to be euthanized — because of their training and temperament – but they hoped that the legislation would save many more dogs from being put to death.

Yet Rep. Bill Wheat, a veterinarian, expressed a lot of concern about the legislation. He said he would never be able to say for sure whether a dog picked up at a dog fight would be completely safe.

“[Those dogs] don’t discriminate between a young child and another dog,” Wheat, R-Ponchatoula, said. “I cannot tell you for sure that the animal will not inflict harm on a child.”

The Policy Jury Association of Louisiana — a local government group — also worried about the cost to local governments who are in charge of animal control issues. If a dog fighting operation with dozens — or even hundreds  — of dogs was broken up, the local parish might face huge costs for the evaluations of the dogs and their housing under Marcelle’s bill.

Sen. Louie Bernard, R-Natchitoches, said he is a dog lover, but he wasn’t sure more of these traumatized dogs should be in homes.

“I would never be comfortable with a dog that has been trained like that and taken from an event like that,” Bernard said. “I am wondering why I would be comfortable with anyone else having one of these animals.”

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator and producer of the Louisiana Illuminator podcast. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press. Julie covered state government and politics for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune for six years. She’s also covered government and politics in Missouri, Virginia and Washington D.C. Julie is a proud D.C. native and Washington Capitals hockey fan. She and her partner, Jed, live in Baton Rouge. She has two stepchildren, Quinn and Steven.