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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Animal Fighting Suffers a Knockdown

It’s been a big week in our major campaign to crack down on the brutal bloodsport of animal fighting.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law on Monday establishing felony penalties for repeat cockfighting offenders. Utah was previously the only state in the west without a felony cockfighting law, making it a magnet for animal fighters seeking to escape tougher punishment in neighboring states. Similar bills to fortify the law were blocked in the legislature for the past two years, but now Utah is the 42nd state with a felony cockfighting law.

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In Tennessee—one of only eight remaining states where cockfighting is a misdemeanor, and in the heart of the “cockfighting corridor”—the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee yesterday passed a bill to strengthen the penalties for attending or bringing a child to an animal fight.

The legislation had previously passed the state Senate by a landslide vote of 24 to 1, and we are urging the full House to approve it swiftly.

Over the weekend, The Humane Society of the United States assisted law enforcement in Marlboro County, South Carolina, in breaking up an active cockfight, resulting in the arrest of 27 suspected cockfighters and the rescue of 122 gamefowl and one emaciated pit bull with 10 puppies. Remarkably, the mother dog, Nina Louise, had been stolen from her home more than a year ago and was reunited with her owner, who had seen the news coverage of the cockfighting bust.

The Post and Courier in Charleston in an editorial yesterday called on South Carolina lawmakers to get tougher on cockfighting, quoting Marlboro County Sheriff Fred Knight: “The fights themselves are inhumane for the animals involved, but so many crimes come about at these events.” The paper reported that three children were present at the Marlboro raid.

Legislation advanced in the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to close the loophole that made that state the last one in the Union where it’s legal to attend a dogfight. It had previously passed the House by a vote of 74 to 25.

We are very close to having a national policy whose purpose, as the Billings Gazette wrote in an editorial, “is to discourage animal fights, and to ensure that, if fights are held, the instigators will be held accountable.”

These are long-term battles, and we are marching state by state to close the gaps in the legal framework on animal fighting. Other state legislatures in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Vermont are working to fortify their already strong animal fighting statutes this year.

In the mid-1980s, only a dozen states had felony dogfighting statutes and a half dozen still permitted legal cockfighting. Our movement lobbied state legislatures, and passed ballot measures against cockfighting in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma, to make cockfighting illegal in every state and dogfighting a felony in every state.

We also worked with the U.S. Congress to upgrade the federal animal fighting statute four times in the last 12 years, making it a federal felony to fight animals, possess them for fighting, or to bring a child to an animal fighting spectacle.

There is a growing consensus in society that it’s wrong to force two animals into a pit to fight to the death, often pumped full of drugs to heighten their aggression, and with razor-sharp knives and weapons strapped to their legs, just to place gambling bets and entertain people who are titillated by the violence and bloodletting.

Even Matt Bevin, who as a U.S. Senate candidate last year spoke at a rally to legalize cockfighting in Kentucky, now says that cockfighting should be a felony in the state. These political changes are bringing us closer to eradicating dogfighting and cockfighting in the U.S., a day that cannot come soon enough.

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