November 9, 2009
Who Is Bob Stevens?
Focus of United States v. Stevens
Bob Stevens, a 68-year-old Virginia resident, is one of the first persons tried and convicted under the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act. Well known in the dogfighting world, Stevens penned Dogs of Velvet and Steel—an instructional book for aspiring dogfighters and those looking to up the ante—and sold videotapes promoting and glorifying illegal dogfighting.
Stevens' 2005 conviction, for which he was sentenced to 37 months in prison, was a victory against dogfighting because it helped send a strong message to those seeking to profit from the cruel blood sport of animal fighting. However, a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit overturned the conviction. More recently, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments appealing this decision, fueled by The HSUS' urging.
The law in question prohibits the interstate sale of depictions, such as videos, in which "a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed, if such conduct is illegal under Federal law or the law of the State in which the creation, sale, or possession takes place."
with an exemption if the depiction has "serious religious, political, scientific, educational, journalistic, historical, or artistic value."
The law removes the profit motive for producing depictions of extreme cruelty, and is a vital law enforcement tool for deterring such acts of cruelty that would otherwise go unpunished due to their underground nature.
"The importance of the law in stopping animal cruelty cannot be overstated," said Sergeant David Hunt of the Franklin County Sheriff's Department. "It's a powerful tool to go after those who profit from illegal animal cruelty and promote criminal behavior."
While Stevens has claimed to be merely a pit bull lover with no interest in dogfighting, the evidence points to the contrary. In Dogs of Velvet and Steel, Stevens boldly declares, "I attended many pit fights" and gives graphic accounts of some of his favorite dogfights.
"I attended many pit fights and saw some real deep, hard biters."
—Bob Stevens, Dogs of Velvet and Steel
Of particular assistance to dogfighters is the detail he goes into on preparing pit bulls for fighting matches.
The items Stevens was convicted of selling in 2005 are three pro-dogfighting videos geared specifically to dogfighters: "Japan Pit Fights," "Pick a Winna," and "Catch Dogs and Country Living." He has also sold other dogfighting videos, including "The $100 Keep."
A quick review of each video reveals Stevens as the dogfighting enthusiast he is.
In "Japan Pit Fights," Stevens brags, This is our newest release, "Japan Pit Fights." It features 3 Panther-bred pit dogs I acquired directly from Matt McGee and sent to Japan. In the first match, you will see the famous Samurai dog. Samurai became the Japan all-national pit champion.
The video then launches into a series of graphic dogfights showing dogs inside the fighting pit from beginning to bloody end.
In "Pick a Winna," Stevens goes one step further. He invites viewers to watch each dogfighting match to "[s]ee how you are at picking the winner." He goes on to act as a sportscaster for each match, excitedly exclaiming, "Theeeere they go!" as each new pit bull match launches.
"I think that you will agree with me that our breed is hands down, unquestionably, the best undisputed fighting dog breed in the world. So sit down with me and watch some good ones perform."
—Bob Stevens, "Japan Pit Fights"
Every few minutes, Stevens pauses the dogfighting footage to prompt viewers, "Okay, folks, which one do you like? Which dog do you choose to be the winner? Who is your champion?"
He gives his analysis of which dog is the better fighter, helping dogfighting enthusiasts understand the traits of a good fighting dog as well as assisting them in making their gambling choices during dogfights.
Stevens' "$100 Keep" helps viewers understand the best way to prepare a dog for a fighting match. Explaining equipment and tools used by dogfighters—and almost never by those with pet pit bulls—Stevens and his cohorts describe how to train fighting dogs on a "cat mill" (a rotating device that dangles a live animal or animal hide just out of reach of the dog, encouraging the dog to chase after it in perpetuity), a treadmill, and a springpole.
He even advises viewers to put not one but two collars on each dog "for extra security" because "the true dog man knows how to secure his dog to minimize them from getting loose."
The tape ends with another wink to dogfighting as the video rolls a print disclaimer cynically explaining, "Bill says 'match' and 'fight' a few times. Old habits and terms tend to stay with us."
Stevens' final video, "Catch Dogs and Country Living," is a twist on dogfighting, geared toward training dogs forhog-dog fighting, where pit bulls latch onto the faces of pigs until the pigs go down in writhing agony.
"You see that dog with the tail down? That's not a good sign, folks....Actually, both of these dogs could use better conditioning. That's why I think a dog should be conditioned for wrestling ability, pushing their weight."
—Bob Stevens, "Pick A Winna"
Stevens can't restrain himself from giving a plug to pit bull fighting even in this video, opening the tape by showing off his dogs like Velvet, whom he describes as "deep game-proven" before showing some footage of pit bull fighting. In one telling statement, Stevens says, "I want to make it clear I don't breed for catch work; I breed pit dogs."
During one particularly gruesome scene of a pit bull named Katie doing "catch work" by latching onto the face of a hapless farm hog, Stevens describes, "In about three minutes there is no bottom jaw on that hog. Katie took that, and good part of his throat and his nose out...Those Panther-Velvet dogs have a very destructive bite, and Katie is no exception.
What's at Stake
The courts don't dispute that Stevens is openly promoting dogfighting in these videos, and that these videos violate the federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act.
Rather, the Appeals Court's overturning of Stevens' conviction relies on First Amendment arguments and on a finding that the prevention of animal cruelty is not a "compelling state interest." However, as the United States and The HSUS have argued to the Supreme Court, the prevention of animal cruelty has been a priority for states for centuries. In addition, like certain other types of "speech"—such as child pornography and obscenity—the depiction of extreme animal cruelty contains no social value or expressive content and therefore is not entitled to protection under the First Amendment.
The Supreme Court's forthcoming decision on the constitutionality of the federal Cruelty Depictions Act will have a monumental impact both on animal cruelty issues and on animal fighting. The distribution of animal fighting videos helps to propagate and sustain interest in the blood sport among debased members of society. This alone is reason enough for the public to take an interest in the outcome of the Stevens case.