AR-News: (AL) Mobile Register Op-Ed on Cockfighting
politicalanimal13 at yahoo.com
Mon Feb 2 06:28:59 EST 2004
Get tough on cockfighting
By WAYNE PACELLE
Special to the Register
Two major cockfight busts within a week at opposite
ends of Alabama -- last Sunday in Mobile County and
days earlier near Hunstville -- were commendable
attempts by local law enforcement to shut down a
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Unfortunately, those arrested for staging the bouts
only face misdemeanor charges and a maximum fine of
$50. That's because Alabama's cockfighting laws are
the weakest in the nation.
Had the perpetrators been charged with running a
cockpit in neighboring Florida, they could face a
third-degree felony charge calling for up to five
years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
Cockfighting is banned in 48 states (legal only in
Louisiana and parts of New Mexico) and it's a felony
in 31. Unfortunately, a number of states in the South
have ineffective anti-cockfighting laws.
In fact, The Humane Society of the United States rates
Alabama's law against cockfighting as the nation's
weakest. It is legal in Alabama, for example, to
attend cockfights, to own and train fighting birds,
and to possess fighting implements.
Cockfighters claim that roosters fight by instinct,
but there's nothing natural about juicing birds up
with drugs to heighten aggression and clot blood, then
strapping razor-sharp knives and gaffs to their legs
to inflict maximum damage and pain, and forcing them
to fight in an arena from which there's no escape.
It's a cruel and bloody business of slashed throats,
punctured lungs and eyes gouged out as one or both
birds fight to the death.
Recent major cockfighting busts in Georgia, South
Carolina and, now, two in Alabama indicate that law
enforcement officials are taking the matter seriously.
But despite the best efforts of county sheriffs to
conduct their duty, they are hindered in taking a bite
out of the industry by the weak fines and lack of jail
The paltry fines are a minor cost of doing business
for cockfighters who profit from their illegal
gambling and their sale of fighting birds. If you
speed on Interstate 65, you are likely to pay a bigger
fine than if you organize a cockfight in Alabama.
Magazines promoting cockfighting are packed with
advertisements for fighting roosters, for drugs, and
for fighting knives and gaffs. One of the national
monthly cockfighting magazines, The Gamecock, is
loaded with ads from gamecock breeders in Alabama.
In the December 2003 issue, an Alabamian boasts that
he sells "The Winningest Fowl in the World." He
advertises the sale of "battle cocks" for "$250 & up"
and declares, "Shipments made worldwide!!!"
He makes little effort to conceal his conduct, all but
daring the federal government to enforce the law
Indeed, if he is shipping "battle cocks" to Louisiana,
Mexico, Guam, the Philippines or any other
jurisdiction where cockfighting is legal, he is
committing a federal crime. The question is, if
Alabama bans cockfighting and if federal law bans
shipping fighting birds outside of the state, why is
he raising "battle cocks" at all?
In 2002, Congress passed a statute that criminalizes
any interstate or foreign commerce in fighting
roosters and dogs. The federal law provides penalties
of up to one year in jail and up to a $15,000 fine for
It's to crack down on scofflaws that the Congress is
now considering new legislation to further strengthen
penalties for violations of the federal law against
interstate traffic in fighting animals.
The new legislation, S. 736 and H.R. 1532 -- which has
the support of about 250 members of Congress -- would
make it a federal felony to ship birds in interstate
or foreign commerce.
In addition to more than 100 law enforcement and
humane groups, mainstream agricultural groups are now
calling for upgraded penalties for animal fighting. An
outbreak of Exotic Newcastle Disease -- the highly
contagious avian disease that kills any infected bird
-- occurred in southern California last fall, where
the state veterinarian has speculated that some 50,000
individuals raise fighting birds there.
The massive network of backyard cockfighting
operations and transport of fighting roosters to and
from the state provided the "perfect storm"
circumstances for its spread throughout southern
California and into Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and
In response, federal and state authorities killed more
than 3.8 million birds and spent more than $200
million in taxpayer funds to contain the disease.
Cockfighting is an illegal blood sport whose core
conduct involves naked animal cruelty. It is a highly
profitable industry where staged fights are magnets
for illegal gambling and other criminal behavior.
And it is a dangerous business that threatens to cause
serious economic harm to mainstream agriculture.
The Alabama Legislature opens its 2004 session on
Tuesday. Before they adjourn, legislators should
exhibit no tolerance for these vicious exhibitions
that are staged for little more than the opportunity
to bet on the death of an animal, and the sadistic
pleasure of watching them slice each other to pieces
in Saturday-night knife fights.
Wayne Pacelle is a senior vice president of The Humane
Society of the United States. His e-mail address is
wpacelle at hsus.org.
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