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April 11, 2013

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced in U.S. Senate to Crack Down on Animal Fighting Spectators

Lawmakers urged to swiftly pass bill to penalize criminals who finance or bring children to dogfights and cockfights

  • The HSUS has recently assisted in breaking up a national dogfighting network with two seperate raids in California and Mississippi.   Frank Loftus/The HSUS

A bipartisan group of Senators has introduced a bill that would outlaw spectators’ willful attendance at organized animal fights and impose additional penalties for bringing a minor to an animal fight. U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wa., and David Vitter R-La., have introduced S. 666, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.

The Senate legislation has 14 bipartisan cosponsors, and a companion House bill, H.R. 366, has widespread support from 132 cosponsors. The legislation has been endorsed by The Humane Society of the United States, 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.

“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,” 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. Members of Congress must realize the key role spectators play in the criminal enterprise of animal fighting and work to see the bill passed into law.”

In the wake of the Senate bill’s introduction, The HSUS assisted in breaking up a national dogfighting network, with the arrests of more than 50 suspects and the rescue of 40 dogs spanning two separate raids in California and Mississippi. The raids were the result of an extensive investigation into highly organized, interstate dogfighting. Some of those arrested had converged at a fight in Mississippi from as far away as California, Ohio, Florida and Texas. The investigation makes clear the role of spectators. At the dogfight in Mississippi, for example, a spectator fired shots at officers.    

The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act will close the remaining gap in the federal law and sync it up with the 49 state laws that have penalties for animal fighting spectators, in order 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:

Senator Vitter said: "We've made great strides in outlawing the cruel abuse of animal fighting, but I'm honored to have worked with Senators Blumenthal, Kirk, Cantwell, and others to also make it much more difficult to attend these garish spectacles as well–especially with a minor.”

Senator Kirk said: “By making it a crime to knowingly attend an animal fight, this bill is consistent with state animal fighting laws and will deny event organizers the revenue that funds future events. This bipartisan legislation achieved unanimous approval in the Senate last year. I hope to push for this success again so we can close the loophole that has allowed animal fighting to continue its vicious cycle.”

Senator Blumenthal said: “Despite efforts by Congress to put an end to animal fighting, this blood sport continues to exist throughout the country, and is financed by thousands of dollars from spectators who contribute to it. 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. These crimes are a federal matter and the federal response ought to be as strong as possible. Animal fighting encourages the worst in the human condition, and members from both sides of the aisle have been vocal in their commitment to putting an end to this inhumane activity.”

Senator Cantwell said: "This bipartisan legislation builds upon our progress in disrupting illegal animal fighting. We've made great strides already in making it a federal crime to buy, sell, possess, train, or transport animals across state lines for fighting. This bill would also make it a federal crime to attend or bring a minor to an animal fight, giving local law enforcement officials the tools they need to crack down on this cruel practice. I'm proud to continue working with my colleagues to get these tough new penalties on the books."

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

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