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June 20, 2012

U.S. Senate Approves Animal Fighting Amendment

Amendment closes loophole in federal law by outlawing attendance at dogfights and cockfights

The HSUS, Humane Society Legislative Fund

The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund applauded the U.S. Senate for approving an amendment, by a vote of 88 to 11, introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and strongly backed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., which closes loopholes in the federal animal fighting law related to attendance at dogfights and cockfights. 

The federal animal fighting law already makes it a felony to stage fights, possess or train animals for fighting, or to move animals or cockfighting implements in interstate commerce for fighting purposes.  The Vitter amendment prohibits attendance at organized animal fights and imposes additional penalties for bringing a child to these bloody and illegal spectacles.

The amendment, approved during consideration of the Farm bill, is nearly identical to S. 1947, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, introduced by Sens.  Blumenthal, Kirk, Cantwell, and Brown.  A House version of the bill, H.R. 2492, introduced by Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, has nearly 200 co-sponsors. The original Senate animal fighting amendment was not included in the approved list of amendments to be considered on the Farm bill, but a previously approved Vitter amendment dealing with television and film extras who bring their pets onto sets was modified to allow consideration of the animal fighting issue.

Over the past decade, Congress has strengthened the penalties for and closed major loopholes in the federal law addressing dogfighting, cockfighting, and other forms of animal fighting but has left the issue of spectators unaddressed. This legislation will correct this remaining gap in federal law to allow for a more comprehensive crackdown on this barbaric activity.

“Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, make the enterprise profitable through admission fees and wagering, and help conceal and protect the handlers and organizers,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “Federal investigators who raid large-scale animal fighting operations may soon be able to prosecute the entire cast of characters who sustain dogfighting and cockfighting.”

“We’ve made great strides in outlawing the cruel abuse of animal fighting, but I’m honored to have worked with a bipartisan group of senators to also make it much more difficult to attend these garish spectacles—especially with a minor,” said Sen. Vitter.

“Despite efforts by Congress to put an end to animal fighting, this cruel sport continues to exist throughout the country and is financed by thousands of dollars from spectators who contribute to the blood sport. When animal fighting involves players from a number of different States, local law enforcement simply lacks the power to deal with it and to root out the entire operation,” said Sen. Blumenthal.

“This amendment gives local law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on illegal animal fighting. I was proud to cosponsor this bipartisan amendment and to work with Senators Blumenthal and Vitter to ensure its passage. Enacting tough penalties is an important step to ending the cruel practice of animal fighting," said Sen. Cantwell.

It is illegal in 49 states to be a knowing spectator at an animal fight. A majority—29 states—impose felony-level penalties on spectators. This legislation imposes federal misdemeanor penalties for knowing attendance and felony penalties for knowingly causing a minor to attend.

The law would not affect “innocent bystanders,” because organized animal fighting is a federal crime and illegal in all 50 states; this activity is highly clandestine, and spectators don’t just accidentally happen upon a fight. They seek out the criminal activity at secret locations, often need passwords to enter, and pay admission fees for the opportunity to watch and gamble on the gruesome show—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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, and more than 150 law enforcement agencies from across the country.

Media contact: Rebecca Basu: rbasu@humanesociety.org, 240-753-4875

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