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January 23, 2013

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced in Congress to Crack Down on Animal Fighting Spectators

HSUS urges lawmakers to swiftly pass bill to penalize criminals who finance or bring children to dogfights and cockfights

  • Spectators pay hundreds or sometimes thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise.  iStockphoto

The Humane Society of the United States applauds U.S. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., James McGovern, D-Mass., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va., for introducing H.R. 366, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, a bill that would outlaw spectators’ willful attendance at organized animal fights and impose additional penalties for bringing a minor.

Similar legislation introduced in the previous Congress passed the Senate by voice vote, had the support of 228 cosponsors in the House of Representatives, and was approved as an amendment to the Farm Bill in the full Senate and the House Agriculture Committee. Unfortunately, the bill never received a floor vote in the House. The legislation has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and more than 300 sheriffs and police departments from all 50 states.

“Spectators are willing 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 Michael Markarian, chief program and policy officer of The HSUS. “With many animal fighting rings being multi-jurisdictional, law enforcement, including federal agencies, must have a full range of legal tools to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting.”

Over the past decade, Congress has closed major loopholes and strengthened penalties in the federal animal fighting law, but has left the issue of spectators unaddressed. The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act will close this remaining gap to assist authorities in mounting a comprehensive crackdown on this barbaric activity. 

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. Animals used for fighting are often given adrenaline-boosting drugs and forced to keep fighting even after they’ve suffered severe 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.

Lawmakers issued the following statements:

“As a former state and federal prosecutor, I’ve seen first-hand the criminal culture that surrounds animal fighting events and the damaging influence this environment has on our children,” said Rep. Marino, the bill’s lead sponsor.  “It is an honor to join with several of my colleagues, in a bipartisan manner, to make sure that law enforcement has all of the tools necessary to deprive the organizers and profiteers of these horrific events from receiving the support they need to continue this activity.  I look forward to building on the momentum we gained during the last Congress and seeing that this important legislation is signed into law.”

"I am proud to introduce this bipartisan bill to end the scourge of animal fighting," Rep. McGovern said. "We must give our law enforcement officials the tools they need to bring those responsible for animal fighting to justice."

"The first step toward eliminating the cruel and heinous practice of animal fighting is to ensure that those who seek to perpetrate this brutality have no audience and support structure,” Rep. Campbell said. “Criminalizing the act of attending an animal fight not only removes incentives for the organizers, it severely restricts the illicit profit that these fights generate. This legislation is an imperative part of eradicating animal fighting completely."

“Nothing is more intentionally cruel than animal fighting. Critical to this illicit industry are spectators who pay significant admission fees and gamble on the outcome of the contests,” Rep. Moran said.  “By outlawing spectators at animal fights, this legislation will cut off the revenue stream that allows this vile activity to thrive.”

Facts:

  • Spectators pay hundreds or sometimes 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.
  • Under state law, it is illegal to attend a dogfight in 49 states and illegal to attend a cockfight in 43. However, federal enforcement is often necessary as a complement to state laws when organized rings operate across state lines.

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

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