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Thursday, December 19, 2019

Cockfighting ban in U.S. territories takes effect tomorrow, despite resistance in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Tomorrow, a hard-won federal law goes into effect to close a loophole that allowed cockfighters to continue operating in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. We’ve strongly supported this law because it seeks to end a cruel practice that results in severe suffering and death for countless birds each year.

Photo by Heather Severt/the HSUS

Regrettably, however, cockfighters and their associated lobbies in the territories have been putting up resistance and seeking to undermine it. Puerto Rico, for instance, has passed a law that aims to keep cockfighting alive there. But the federal law has already been challenged by cockfighters, and they have lost. In late October a federal district court for the District of Puerto Rico found that Congress was well within its power to clarify that the existing federal ban on cockfighting in the U.S. states applies equally to the U.S. territories.

Our hope is that lawmakers in the affected territories will respond in the way that governors of U.S. states and other jurisdictions have done in the past when such cruelties have come within the scope of law enforcement in an increasingly humane society. They ought to be thinking ahead to ways to lay the groundwork for the implementation and respect of such statutes.

All too often, those who are involved in this blood sport, anywhere in the world, claim cockfighting as a tradition and a culture. But tradition and culture are not a defense for animal cruelty. Cockfighting pits one animal against another for gambling and entertainment. The birds suffer terribly: they are often drugged to heighten their aggression and razor-sharp weapons are attached to their legs for the fight. Common injuries include punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes. Dead and dying birds are thrown away like trash. And that’s simply not right.

That’s why the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act was introduced in Congress in 2017—and that’s why we’ve supported it in every way.

Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States fought hard for this legislation because there shouldn’t be one set of rules against animal fighting in 50 states and another set for the U.S. territories. We worked with the bill’s many champions in Congress to get it enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support.

What makes such a law even more necessary is the fact that animal fighting is often associated with other criminal activity, including gangs, gambling, drug trafficking, illegal weapons dealing, public corruption, and violent crimes against people. It also endangers public health; cockfighting has been directly implicated in the spread of bird flu and other diseases that have caused human deaths and cost taxpayers and the poultry industry millions of dollars.

We look forward to PACE taking effect tomorrow. The HSUS, with other animal organizations, is active in the U.S. territories and elsewhere in the world, helping to strengthen the human-animal bond and to build out a culture of petkeeping and kindness to animals. We are very committed to the spread of humane values throughout the United States and its territories, and, indeed, throughout the world. That’s our mission and that’s our standard that we’ll assert and defend in the years to come.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

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