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June 12, 2013

Utah Now Has Weakest Cockfighting Law West of the Mississippi

Legislature urged to take action

Utah has become the only state in the Western contiguous United States without first-offense felony penalties for cockfighting, after Nevada enacted its upgraded law Monday. The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society of Utah are urging the Utah legislature to strengthen cockfighting penalties to bring the crime in line with dogfighting.

John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy for The HSUS, said: “Utah has one of the nation’s weakest cockfighting laws—it is just a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum penalty of up to $1,000. That’s a minor cost of doing business for cockfighters, who gamble large sums at these cruel events. Utah needs to send a message that it is no refuge for this bloodsport.”

Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, said: “Cockfighting is a barbaric practice, and weak laws invite that kind of cruel activity into Utah. We hope our state legislators make it a priority to crack down on cockfighting next session and upgrade our penalties to reflect the severity of the crime.”

A Mason Dixon Polling & Research Inc. conducted in February showed that a strong majority of Utah voters statewide want tougher penalties for cockfighting, with 70 percent in favor of a bill making cockfighting a felony crime, and only 15 percent opposed. Supporters of the legislation outnumbered opponents by a nearly 5-to-1 margin, with strong majorities favoring the bill among every political affiliation, gender, and region of the state.

The results of the poll were released ahead of a Utah State Senate Committee hearing and vote on proposed legislation that would have made cockfighting penalties in Utah a felony crime. The bill passed the Senate, but later failed in the House.

Forty states have felony penalties for cockfighting with 37 being on the first offense while three others apply felony penalties on a second or subsequent offense. Only nine other states have lack any felony penalties for cockfighting besides Utah.

Background:

  • Cockfighting is illegal in every state, and all animal fighting that affects interstate commerce is punishable as a federal felony under the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Common cockfighting practices include breeding birds for viciousness, drugging them to heighten aggression, and fitting their legs with deadly weapons—that is, razor-sharp knives or gaffs, which resemble curved ice picks.
  • Congress is considering legislation—the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act—to further strengthen the federal animal fighting law by making it a crime to be a spectator at a dogfight or cockfight, with additional penalties for bringing a child to the fight.

Media Contacts:
HSUS- Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491, stwining@humanesociety.org
HSU - Gene Baierschmidt, 801-580-2544

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