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Proposed Cook County task force would tackle animal cruelty

Sunday, September 11, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

When Chicago Heights police raid a suspected drug house, they're always on the lookout for danger — not just from men with guns, but from their pets.

"If you have ... narcotics in the house, more than 50 percent of the time you'll have a pit bull there," said Lt. John Murphy, in charge of animal control for the village. "They're breeding them for fighting."

Dog fighting has become a favorite pastime of drug dealers, Murphy said, who can afford the expensive dogs.

"Sometimes, you just have to shoot (the dogs), because they're coming at you," Murphy said. "If they're trained for fighting, you can't just reach out and pet them."

Cook County Commissioner Joan Murphy, who is not related to Lt. Murphy, is leading an effort to coordinate government responses to dog fighting and animal cruelty throughout Cook County.

Her proposal to create a Partners Against Animal Cruelty task force is up for public hearing Tuesday.

"People are passionate about this," said Murphy (D-Crestwood). "They know these are helpless beasts that have nowhere to go, no one to complain to, unless someone steps forward to protect them."

Dog fighting, in which contestants pit their dogs in a fight to the death and gamble on the outcome, is a growing problem, Murphy said, and one that the public and law enforcement know little about.

Murphy's proposed task force would work to increase public awareness and provide training to police and prosecutors. An all-volunteer organization, it would be directed by a 13-member advisory board.

The task force also would include one representative from each of the 17 Cook County districts and a representative from each of Cook County's 121 villages, towns and cities.

Murphy has been studying the issue since June 2004, when a resident called her to push for more local police investigations of dog fighting. Police often don't realize it's a felony offense, Murphy said.

Research shows there is a link between animal cruelty and violence against humans, Murphy said. Children who are exposed to it become desensitized to violence.

"They become violent offenders themselves, be it spousal abuse or child battering," Murphy said.

Advocate Shayna Plaut said there is not enough evidence to prove such a direct link. But she said animal cruelty is often a warning sign of domestic violence.

"Domestic violence is cyclical," said Plaut, the training coordinator for the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women's Network. "A lot of the same behaviors about making excuses ... can either start or be emphasized in violence against animals."

Some local officials have reservations about Murphy's plan. Police chiefs in Chicago Ridge and Orland Park said they didn't think dog fighting was a big problem or a growing problem, and are concerned about tying up too much of their officers' time.

"It depends on what level of commitment they want," Orland Park Police Chief Tim McCarthy said. "If it's a matter of getting the information out, we'd do that. But in terms of committing personnel to it, I don't think we could."

Palos Hills Mayor Gerald Bennett said towns may resent having to devote local resources to a county-run task force.

"I'm kind of one to believe to let each town handle that on their own," said Bennett, also president of the Southwest Conference of Mayors. "Most towns like self rule."

Murphy said she's sensitive to these concerns and wants no tax money spent on the task force, which will rely on volunteer work and occasional fundraisers.

"There are a lot of human problems going on that don't get enough attention," Murphy said. "If this was for children, I would ask for tax money."

Jonathan Lipman may be reached at jlipman@dailysouthtown.com or (312) 782-1286.

Hearing regarding Murphy's proposed "Partners Against Animal Cruelty" task force

Tuesday, Sept. 13
11 a.m.
Cook County board room
118 N. Clark Street, Chicago



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