July 19, 2011
Michael Vick and The HSUS Call on Feds to Crack Down on Animal Fighting Spectators
Federal bill would make it a crime to attend and cause a minor to attend animal fights
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick joined federal lawmakers and The Humane Society of the United States for a Capitol Hill press conference calling on Congress to pass H.R. 2492, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.
The bipartisan legislation, introduced last week by U.S. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, would prohibit knowing attendance at organized animal fights and impose additional penalties for causing a minor to attend such events.
“Too many kids get involved in dogfighting, and it’s time to break this cycle. Animal fighting is a dead-end road for the young men, and there’s nothing but terrible outcomes for the dogs placed in a pit to fight,” said Vick, who lobbied members of Congress in favor of the legislation. “Since my case came to light, the laws against animal fighting have been upgraded, and here's another opportunity to strengthen the law and establish an even stronger deterrent.”
Participation supports animal fighting
After serving nearly two years in a federal penitentiary, Michael Vick has been working with The HSUS to steer young people in at-risk communities away from dogfighting. He has a story to tell to young men and boys in urban communities where dogfighting has surged in the last quarter century, and he is now speaking out on Capitol Hill in favor of this new legislation to strengthen the federal animal fighting law.
“Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, provide a large share of the funding for the criminal enterprise through their admission fees and gambling wagers, and help conceal handlers and organizers who try to blend into the crowd when a bust occurs,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “We hope that Congress will give law enforcement additional tools to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting spectacles.”
Animal fighting is an inhumane and cruel activity involving the deliberate pitting of animals against each other to fight, often for lengthy contests that end in death, for the sole purpose of gambling and entertainment of spectators. Animals used for fighting are often drugged to heighten their aggression and forced to keep fighting even after they've suffered grievous injuries such as broken bones, deep gashes, punctured lungs, and pierced eyes. Young children are often brought to these events and exposed to the gruesome spectacle as acceptable entertainment. The current federal law makes staged fights and possession or training of animals for fighting a crime, but there is no federal prohibition on attending dogfights and cockfights.
Making the sensible national
It is illegal in 49 states to be a knowing spectator at an animal fight. A majority—28 states—impose felony-level penalties on spectators. The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act imposes federal misdemeanor penalties for knowing attendance and felony penalties for causing a minor to attend. State and federal law enforcement agencies often work together to enforce animal fighting laws, and the federal law will complement the state laws on animal fighting spectators.
The law would not reach to individuals who are not aware they are present at an animal fight or situations where two animals fight without provocation by animal fighting organizers. Because organized animal fighting is a federal crime and illegal in all 50 states, this activity is highly clandestine. Spectators at animal fights don't just accidentally happen upon a fight—they seek out the criminal activity at secret locations, often need passwords to enter, and pay hefty admission fees for the opportunity to watch and gamble on the fights—facts that a prosecutor might use as evidence to prove that a defendant knowingly attended.
Animal fighting facts
- Spectators pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise. The fights would not occur without the crowd betting on the outcome and enjoying the bloodletting.
- Spectators provide cover for animal fighters, who weave into crowds to evade prosecution at the first sign of a police raid.
- Often spectators are themselves participants in animal fights, waiting their turn at a typical organized animal fight, with several rounds during an event or derby. When police raid an animal fight, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between spectators and participants who were going to fight their dog or bird in the next match.
- Cockfighting has been linked to the death of a number of people in Asia from bird flu and to an outbreak of a poultry disease that cost U.S. taxpayers more than $200 million to contain.
- Animal fighting is also closely associated with other criminal activities such as gangs, narcotics, illegal weapons possession, public corruption and various violent crimes. A three-year study by the Chicago Police Department found that 70 percent of animal offenders had also been arrested for other felonies, including domestic and aggravated battery, illegal drug trafficking and sex crimes.