We were a bit surprised when informed by animal welfare advocates last week that the conviction of Gustavo Solis was the first ever in the state for felony dog fighting.
After all, dog fighting has been a felony in New Mexico since 1981, and we don't for a second believe that Solis was the first or the only person in our state participating in this despicable crime. Robyn Gojkovich, a criminal investigator with the Doña Ana County Sheriff's Department, told us that 90 percent of the calls she gets are related to animal cruelty. "Animal cruelty and dog fighting are big problems in the state and in Doña Ana County," she said.
So why has it taken this long to secure a conviction? Part of the reason is the difficulty in investigating and prosecuting dog fighting cases, said Heather Ferguson, coordinator for the state Attorney General's Animal Cruelty Task Force. She said multiple agencies are often involved in bringing the cases to trial. That has certainly been the case in the multi-state investigation involving another dog fighting arrest — this one against twin brothers Daron and Duryea Scott, who both face multiple charges related to alleged dog fighting. That case is still working its way through the court system.
While the difficulty of prosecution may be one reason for the lack of convictions until now, we also believe that complacency was a factor. In the past, animal cruelty cases simply weren't a priority for police, sheriffs and prosecutors.
The animal cruelty task force that Attorney General Gary King heads has only been around for a couple of years. Officers now get specialized training, offered by the nonprofit group Animal Protection of New Mexico, in how to investigate animal cruelty cases, including both dog fighting and cockfighting.
The public also is becoming more aware of the problem. An anonymous tip alerted sheriff's officers to what was taking place at Solis' home in the 2300 block of Venadito Trail in Anthony, N.M. That led to a search warrant, where a number of pit bulls were seized, and dog fighting equipment was discovered.
Ferguson tells us the conviction of Solis was a "huge blow" to the state's dog fighting industry. Time will tell. But, the conviction should serve to put all dog fighters on notice that the days of lax enforcement are over. A new statewide commitment has been launched to rid New Mexico of this and other blood sports involving animals. We commend that effort, and encourage all who are still participating in dog fighting and cockfighting to think long and hard about the consequences, should they continue.