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December 4, 2012

The HSUS Applauds U.S. Senate for Cracking Down on Animal Fighting Spectators

Closes loophole in federal law by outlawing attendance at dogfights and cockfights

  • The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act will give law enforcement the tools they need to end the practice of animal fighting.   Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The Humane Society of the United States applauded the U.S. Senate for approving S. 1947, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, by a voice vote. The bipartisan legislation, introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn, Scott Brown, R-Mass., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., closes loopholes in the federal animal fighting law related to attendance at dogfights and cockfights.

Federal law already makes it a felony to stage animal fights, possess or train animals for fighting, or move animals or cockfighting implements in interstate commerce for fighting purposes. The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act would prohibit attendance at organized animal fights, cracking down on the spectators who finance animal fights with their admission fees and gambling wagers, and impose additional penalties for bringing a child to these bloody and illegal spectacles.

“Spectators 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. “If we are serious about cracking down on the barbaric practice of animal fighting, law enforcement must have the tools to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in these criminal enterprises.”

Similar legislation previously passed the Senate, as a Farm Bill amendment introduced by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., by a vote of 88-11 in June, and passed the House Agriculture Committee as a Farm Bill amendment in July. A House version of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, H.R. 2492, introduced by Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, has 228 co-sponsors. The HSUS is urging the House to pass this legislation swiftly in the lame-duck session.

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.

“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 this 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.

“I’m proud to have been a leader on this important piece of animal welfare legislation,” said Sen. Brown. “This bipartisan measure will close a loophole and give law enforcement the tools they need to end the heinous practice of animal fighting.”

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. 

“Senators Blumenthal, Brown, Cantwell and Vitter drove the enactment of this policy with their tenacity, and we are immensely grateful to them for their leadership,” added Pacelle.

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, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and nearly 300 law enforcement agencies from across the country.

Media Contact: Heather Sullivan: 240-477-2251, hsullivan@humanesociety.org

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