Torture an animal, lose your property -- that is the hard line the Hillsborough County Commission is taking.
Commissioners voted Wednesday to make Hillsborough the first county in the state of Florida to go after felony convicted animal abusers under an existing contraband and forfeiture statute that would allow law enforcement to seize their assets.
It's a law usually used to go after drug traffickers and racketeers, but after talks with the county and state's attorneys, Commission Chairman Ken Hagan says he is confident it can be broadened to include animal abusers.
Hagan introduced the proposal at Wednesday's county commission meeting, which passed unanimously, 7-0.
Hagan says he's seen enough stories about dog fighting, cockfighting and other cruelties inflicted on animals in Hillsborough County. He believes a new approach is needed to get tough with animal abusers, especially those involved in criminal rings , such as dog fighting.
"It's an illegal operation. It's not just one or two people. There are folks that are profiting and making money off of this, so those are the areas we want to target," he said. "The criminal enterprises that, essentially, the businesses that are making money on this behavior."
Hagan points to November's dog fighting bust in Seffner as an example. Hillsborough County Animal Services investigators say one of the two men charged with felony animal cruelty bragged to them that they had been fighting dogs on the property for 20 years, and that they were all walking on a "dog graveyard."
There was also a bust on New Year's Day, when deputies broke up a cockfighting ring while a fight was going on. That same house in Plant City was the target of a cockfighting raid in 2009.
Hagan says it's time for animal fighters to know that if they're convicted, they could lose a lot -- even their land.
"I believe we can provide such a deterrent that the risk will be so great of running these illegal operations that criminals will think long and hard about this type of behavior," Hagan said at Wednesday's meeting.
He also introduced a second motion that passed 7-0, directing the local legislative delegation to find a way to allow animal services to take part in any property seizures that arise from cruelty convictions. The present law specifies any assets or proceeds go entirely to law enforcement.
Hagan says the change would help provide funds for animal cruelty investigations and for the often-costly care of animals rescued when investigators make arrests in cruelty cases.
'Graveyard' of dog bones found at Seffner home:
Deputies bust cockfighting ring near Plant City:
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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