The Humane Society of the United States has asked a federal court to order government officials to enforce a section of the Animal Welfare Act.

It is the section that prohibits dog-fighting -- one of the "most overtly barbaric phenomena in American society today." The Humane Society has for three years been providing federal authorities with advance information on when and where dog-fights will be held, but "virtually no enforcement action" has been taken. In fact, "the defendants' enforcement record . . . has been a history of studied inaction." So the society now asks that federal officials be ordered to enforce the law.

A citizen who makes a reasonable request for help from his government but is ignored suffers frustration and anger. When he is ignored repeatedly, he may find his basic belief in the efficacy of self-government under challenge.

He may become cynical about the democratic system and the public "servants" it brings into office. He may even begin to flirt with the idea that things would be better under a stronger leader -- one who knows how to get things done. Italians forgave much of Mussolini's dictatorial posturing because "he made the trains run on time." Germans may not have liked some of Hitler's orders but he did end unemployment, didn't he? Tammany Hall may have been a little bit crooked here and there, but it did fix parking tickets and cut the red tape on building permits for its friends, didn't it?

Little provocation is needed to put some people into the mood to trade their political birthright for a mess of pottage. To the extent that unresponsive officials create a political climate in which such things can happen, they diminish their usefulness. They stop being servants of the people, and there is danger of their becoming enemies instead.

One other aspect of commercialized dogfighting is worth noting: the savage instincts that make supposedly civilized people willing to pay $35 for a ticket to see two dogs fight until one of them dies. One who centers his criticism on the entrepreneurs who stage these disgusting events for their own profit fail to come to grips with a parallel problem: so many customers are eager to buy the "entertainment" purveyed by these promoters.

Which is worse, the greed of those who are in dogfighting for profit or the depravity of those who think it is fun to watch the death throes of a living being?

If those who enjoy dogfights lay claim to a veneer of civilization, I hope they realize that it is a very thin veneer. They are as bloodthirsty as the Romans who flocked to the Colosseum 1,900 years ago to call for the thumbs-down signal that brought sudden death to fallen gladiators. HOW TO END DEMONSTRAIONS

Richard Atwell of Fairfax yearns for the day he'll see a newspaper headline that says, "Iranian Students Demonstrate But Nobody Attends."

Yes. Wouldn't it be lovely if everybody stayed away except the police and the press? So long as the demonstrators refrained from physical attacks, there would be nothing for the police to do and therefore nothing for the media to report.

The big question would be whether editors could bring themselves to give proper evaluation to a media event at which nothing happened. These days, most rapes are not reported at all, two bank robberies are allotted two inches of type, three local homicides in a single night are worth four paragraphs, and a five-car smashup that ties up the Beltway for an hour doesn't get into print unless somebody is killed in it. If maiming and disfigurement don't count, perhaps there is hope that some day phony demonstrations will also be judged to have minimal news value. Of course TV news operates under different rules. A bloodied head is always a good "visual," especially now that almost everybody owns a color set.

I doubt that Richard Atwell or I will live long enough to see an era in which events like Iranian "student" demonstrations will be ignored. But if we do, we'll also see a quick end to these theatrical productions. What's the use of staging a demonstration -- or even a dogfight -- if nobody is going to attend the show? IS COSELL AT RINGSIDE?

With a knock-down, drag-out fight in the offing, could the Democrats have picked a more appropriate arena than Madison Square Garden? OH, BROTHER!

Bob Orben says that if Billy Carter's mouth were any bigger, "it could go condominium."

Bob suggests that there's little need to worry about the president's business affairs. What we ought to ask him to put into a blind trust is his family.

It's too bad Jimmy is not his brother's keeper. Billy sure could use one.