January 23, 2009
The HSUS Assists in Seizing 225 Birds From Suspected Miss. Cockfighting Operation
BYHALIA, Miss. — The Humane Society of the United States has joined with the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department to shut down a suspected cockfighting operation in Olive Branch, Miss. Authorities seized 225 birds today.
Ninety-five hens and chicks seized from the property are on their way to sanctuaries in Virginia and North Carolina. Due to the high levels of aggression, fighting cocks were humanely euthanized at the location. The birds are bred and trained to fight; they had their combs cut off and their spurs sharpened or cut off — all typical of fighting operations.
"With this collaborative action with The Humane Society of the United States, the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department successfully put this suspected cockfighter out of business and we are enormously grateful to Sheriff Bill Rasco and his staff for taking a strong stand against cockfighting and exhibiting such professionalism," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "Mississippi has an anemic cockfighting law, and it is past time to strengthen the law to eradicate this cruel and unacceptable activity."
Mississippi has the second weakest cockfighting law in the nation with a fine of no more than $100 and/or up to 100 days of imprisonment. Such weak penalties do little to deter cockfighters, who stand to win thousands of dollars in gambling profits at a single "derby." There is no state ban on possessing or breeding fighting birds. There is, however, a strong federal law that makes fighting, breeding and possessing fighting animals a felony.
Miss. state Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, has introduced legislation to fix this problem by making cockfighting a felony, as it is in 37 other states. H.B. 1216, which has been assigned to the House Agriculture Committee, would make cockfighting and possessing a bird with intent to fight punishable by a maximum $5,000 fine and/or one to three years of imprisonment. Additionally, the bill would also punish cockfighting spectators, who fuel the blood sport with their admission fees, with a fine of up to $5,000 fine and/or no more than one of imprisonment.
"I am pleased that we were able to shut down this suspected cockfighting operation," said Desoto County Sheriff Bill Rasco. "Stronger laws are still needed to send the message that the residents of DeSoto County will not tolerate the cruel and illegal cockfighting industry."
Felony cockfighting legislation has also been introduced in neighboring Arkansas and Tennessee. The Arkansas state Senate unanimously passed S.B. 77, a cruelty bill that includes felony cockfighting language and has bright prospects of passing in the Ark. House of Representatives. In Tennessee, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Debra Young Maggart, R-Hendersonville, will be introducing felony cockfighting bills during the current legislative session.
- Tens of thousands of people are involved in cockfighting nationwide.
- Common cockfighting practices include breeding birds for viciousness, drugging them to heighten aggression and fitting their legs with razor-sharp knives or gaffs, which resemble curved ice picks.
- Law enforcement raids across the country have revealed that cockfights, which are frequently attended by children, often involve gambling and, as a result of the large amounts of cash present, firearms and other weapons also tend to be present.
- Law enforcement officials have documented a strong connection between cockfighting and the distribution of illegal drugs.
- The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act provides felony penalties for interstate commerce, import and export related to animal fighting activities, including commerce in cockfighting weapons.
The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 10.5 million Americans, or one of every 30. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.