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Friday, November 06, 2009

Return to Sender: Stamping Out Cockfighting Magazines

It’s been a year of one-two punches against the industry in our battle to knock out cockfighting. Two states—Arkansas and Kansas—passed laws to make cockfighting a felony, and other states enacted tougher penalties. HSUS and HSLF are on the march in the remaining states where cockfighting is still treated like a parking violation, and we have a bold agenda to pass felony laws in Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and other states in the nation's “cockfighting corridor.”

South Carolina still has one of the weakest anti-cockfighting statutes, but this week, 21 people in the Palmetto State were indicted for violating the federal animal fighting law, which HSUS and HSLF have worked to upgrade repeatedly in recent years. The crackdown on the state’s cockfighting rings couldn’t come soon enough: At one fight, an undercover officer witnessed a 13-year-old boy checking to see if a rooster was still able to fight, and later the animal was killed by swinging it against a tree.

Until recently, and the U.S. Postal Service were 
supporting the sale of illegal cockfighting magazines, such as 
“The Feathered Warrior” and “Gamecock.”

There was another major milestone this week when HSUS settled longstanding litigation with the U.S. Postal Service and over their complicity in the distribution of illegal animal fighting paraphernalia. The case against Amazon started back in 2005, when HSUS informed the giant online retailer that its sale of the notorious cockfighting magazines “The Feathered Warrior” and “Gamecock” violated federal law.

These publications weren’t about cockfighting culture and commentary, but were published for the purpose of peddling cockfighting weapons, fighting birds, and other illegal contraband. Cockfighters could mail-order birds from special bloodlines, as well as the drugs pumped into birds to heighten aggression, and the razor-sharp knives strapped to the birds’ legs to cause the bloodletting. Even though more than 90 percent of the ads in 11 issues of the magazines essentially contained solicitations to commit a crime, Amazon refused to stop selling them. HSUS sued Amazon and included “The Feathered Warrior” and “Gamecock” as co-defendants.

Amazon, however, wasn’t alone in providing comfort to the cockfighting magazines, as the publications found an unlikely ally in the U.S. Postal Service. The Post Office was not only serving as the primary delivery service for these illegal publications, but was actually giving these criminals a special discount rate usually reserved for public interest organizations and nonprofit charities. As a result, HSUS also sued the Postal Service as a companion case to the action against Amazon.

When Congress passed the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act in 2007, it made interstate dogfighting and cockfighting activities a federal felony, but also added a newly upgraded provision that “prohibits the websites and the magazines where fighting animals are advertised for sale.” This provided a new tool to urge the Postal Service and Amazon to halt mailing what were essentially mail-order catalogs for illegal cockfighting weapons and fighting birds. At first they still refused to budge, but now, after two long years of litigation, the battle is finally over.

The first big break came last year, when HSUS settled with “Gamecock” and the publisher agreed to remove ads that explicitly promoted cockfighting from its pages and stopped selling the magazines on Amazon. One down, one to go.

Then this summer, the final issue of “The Feathered Warrior” rolled off the presses as the publisher shut down operations for good. It seems that the combined effect of the enhanced federal animal fighting law, stronger state penalties, and litigation against cockfighters had made the buying and selling of cockfighting paraphernalia untenable as a business model.

Next, a third magazine called “Grit & Steel” announced it was going out of business. “Grit & Steel” had not been included in the HSUS lawsuit because its publisher had removed the ads for fighting birds and cockfighting implements. Still, its demise signaled that the cockfighting industry has retreated far enough into its dark corner that it simply can no longer sustain these magazines.

Finally, and only after HSUS won a favorable decision in federal court, the Postal Service got on the bandwagon and announced it will stop delivering magazines containing ads for fighting birds or animal fighting implements. With the Postal Service and Amazon both reforming their ways, two cockfighting magazines closing up shop and a third changing its format, we have gone a long way toward shutting down the illicit trade in fighting birds and weapons.

The fight to stamp out animal fighting marches on, though, and with renewed vigor. Cockfighters will no longer get their contraband delivered through the mail, but the HSUS and HSLF will not rest until holdout cockfighters in every state are delivered nothing but long felony prison sentences.


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