CHICAGO, April 25 (UPI) -- When professional football quarterback Michael Vick began campaigning to end dog fighting after his release from prison many animal lovers looked askance.
Vick, 29, who served 23 months for his role in an interstate dog fighting ring, emerged from federal prison last May in the role of spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States.
While it's impossible to know how sincere Vick was -- public service was a requirement of parole -- he has been actively campaigning against dog fighting in apparent remorse for Bad Newz Kennels' treatment of pit bull dogs.
During his incarceration, Vick was suspended from the NFL, lost lucrative endorsements and filed for bankruptcy.
He's made several trips to Chicago, and although the media have not been invited to hear his remarks, students who attended the meetings at public high schools say he appeared genuine.
"He spoke to a few of us about the mistakes and stuff that we shouldn't make about the dog fighting," Kione Ford, a former dog fighter, told WLS-TV, Chicago, last month after Vick spoke at John Marshall High School.
"A lot of these young men don't even realize that dog fighting is wrong, but hearing Michael Vick's story really helps them turn a corner and helps us in our campaign to stop dog fighting," Laurie Maxwell of the Humane Society told WMAQ-TV.
The Humane Society estimates as many as a quarter million dogs are used in fighting annually and more U.S. states and foreign countries are moving to toughen laws against animal abuse or neglect.
Dog fighting is illegal in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, is a felony in most of them, and it is a felony to attend a dog fight as a spectator in 20 states, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said on its Web site, www.aspcapro.com.
A new "Animal Anti-cruelty Act" proposed in China in March would expand protections there to include mistreatment of animals by starvation and ban slaughter of animals in the presence of minors.
However, the latest draft of the proposed Chinese law would leave a ban on consumption of cats and dogs up to regional authorities, rather than impose a nationwide prohibition, China Daily said. Individuals violating the law could be fined up to $730 and businesses the equivalent of $73,000.
The tougher proposals came after 13 Siberian tigers died at a zoo in Shenyang within three months.
"The situation in China is very different from that in the West," Chang Jiwen, a researcher at the Institute of Law, Chinese Academy of Social Science, told China Daily. "That's why we changed the name of the law, from animal protection law to law on anti-cruelty to animals. Our bottom-line is no maltreatment toward animals."
In Canada, the province of New Brunswick is cracking down on pet stores, animal shelters and kennels to halt abuse by requiring licensing and regular inspections starting June 1.
Businesses selling livestock, groomers, trainers, veterinary clinics, riding stables, circuses, zoos and research and education facilities would be exempt from the law, CBC News reported.
More than 200,000 people in Bulgaria signed a Facebook petition to fight against animal cruelty and rallies were held across the Eastern European country from Sofia to the Black Sea.
The Sofia News Agency said the protests were a direct response to an animal cruelty case in which someone cut off the four paws of a dog in a town near Belgrade, Serbia. The young mixed-breed female named "Mila," which means "Darling," is recovering from infection, starvation, dehydration and shock, and will be fitted with prosthetic feet and taught to walk. Belgrade's mayor said the city would pay for the dog's rehabilitation.
Amendments proposed in the Bulgarian Penal Code would mandate fines and jail sentences of as long as three years for cruelty leading to the death or permanent injury of an animal. Repeat offenders and people who harm animals in front of children could spend up to 5 years in prison.
If you think animal abuse has few consequences, animal welfare experts caution that cruelty to animals often is a precursor to violence against humans and usually accompanies such criminal activity as drug abuse, illegal gambling and gun violence.
California, Tennessee, Rhode Island and Louisiana are among several U.S. states considering online public registries of people convicted of animal abuse, not unlike a registry of sex offenders or arsonists. Offenses would include dog fighting, cockfighting, sport killing of zoo or circus animals and anyone convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals.
The Humane Society says more than 46 states currently have felony laws against certain acts of animal cruelty. Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter signed a bill into law April 12, 2010, that adds animals to the state's domestic violence statutes covering at-risk adults and the elderly.
The University of Denver's Institute for Human-Animal Connection is conducting a study of the link between violence to animals and violent behavior to humans. Institute co-director Phil Tedeschi tells the Denver Post researchers will follow animal cruelty cases to see "how they are investigated, what control the investigator has, what does and doesn't get investigated, how they are prosecuted and what penalties are handed down."
The Minnesota Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation that would extend domestic abuse protections to pets. Thirteen other states already have such laws on the books, but a law to make abusing farm animals a felony failed to be called for a vote in the Tennessee House Agriculture Committee.
The New York Times said eight states have laws requiring or authorizing child welfare and domestic abuse investigators and animal control officers to notify each other if abuse is suspected in a household. The Alaska Legislature Saturday toughened penalties for violent crimes against animals, including bestiality.
"Many animal abusers have a history of domestic violence or other criminal activity, and there is a disturbing trend of animal abuse among our country's most notorious serial killers," said Stephen Wells, director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a Cotati, Calif., animal-protection organization championing a national effort to establish animal abuser registries in all 50 states.