New reward aimed at dogfighting tips

ATLANTA - The Humane Society of the United States will offer up to $5,000 for information leading to dogfighting arrests and convictions in Georgia.

The organization announced the reward program at the Capitol Thursday, days before the General Assembly opens a session expected to take up legislation cracking down on the blood sport.

"It's a very cruel activity," said John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society. "It has no place in civilized society."

While anti-dogfighting bills have been before the legislature for several years, nothing has made it into law.

But that could change this year given the intense publicity around Michael Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback sent to federal prison late last year for his involvement in a dogfighting operation run out of property he owned in Virginia.

The Senate unanimously passed a bill last year sponsored by Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, but it died in the House. An alternative House measure sponsored by Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill, didn't reach the floor of the lower chamber.

The reward program is being offered in conjunction with a new toll-free hotline being operated by an Atlanta-based security firm that will evaluate tips and refer information it considers valid to law enforcement agencies.

Georgians with information on dogfighting will be able to call 1-877-TIP-HSUS (847-4787) and tell what they know without giving their name, said Greg Norred, president of Norred & Associates.

"People are reluctant to report this type of activity because they're concerned about retaliation," he said. "This hotline gives us a way for them to report these claims confidentially."

While there appears to be strong support in the legislature for acting on the issue this year, lawmakers could become bogged down over which bill to get behind.

Both bills would make it a felony to own, transport, train or sell any dog for purposes of fighting, or to advertise, host or bet on a dogfighting event.

However, the Senate bill also would make it a felony to attend dogfighting, while attendance would be a misdemeanor under the House version.

Both bills also specify that the legislation would not apply to hunting with dogs.

But Reese said some of the legal definitions in the Senate bill have hunters worried that the legislation could be used to restrict them.

"They open up the animal cruelty codes," he said. "A lot of people don't want to do that."

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway said he prefers the Senate bill because it's tougher.

Conway, who began offering a reward last year out of his own pocket for information on dogfighting, attended Thursday's news conference.

"(The Senate bill) allows you to make a case against someone in dogfighting without catching them in the pits," he said.