So much of our work centers on making positive progress for animals, helping to pass state or federal laws to ensure their protection, working on corporate social responsibility campaigns to get companies to change their practices or appealing directly to the public to raise awareness. But sometimes we must take a different approach, rallying to prevent dangerous regression in animal protection work.

Right now, for example, in Oklahoma, two state bills lowering penalties for animal fighting have cleared the Oklahoma House of Representatives and are now under consideration in the senate; we need your help to stop them.

Last month, the Oklahoma House of Representatives voted in favor of HB 1792 and HB 2530, which would among other things decrease the fine for dogfighting to just $500 and reduce penalties for cockfighting to a low-level misdemeanor with a $500 fine.

This is a terrible step backwards. The Oklahoma legislature passed a law against dogfighting in 1982, and Oklahoma’s cockfighting law was approved by its voters on a statewide ballot in 2002, establishing felony penalties for cockfighting and associated activities such as breeding and trafficking animals for fighting.

There is no reason to take a more lenient stance on animal fighting, a form of organized crime centered around conspicuous animal cruelty. In cockfighting, roosters fitted with razor-sharp blades are forced to fight to the death. In the process, the birds are gored, sliced and have their eyes and lungs punctured, while spectators bet on the animals’ will to survive, for gambling and entertainment.

Dogfighting is a felony in all 50 states, and cockfighting is a felony in 42 states and Washington, D.C, and a misdemeanor in eight states, and both dogfighting and cockfighting are federal felonies in all U.S. territories. So why are these proposals to go soft on animal fighting making headway in Oklahoma?

The cockfighters’ political action committee

In 2022, a group of people defending cockfighting and animal trafficking formed a political action committee, raised almost $70,000 and donated to the political campaigns of 54 candidates for office. They attended campaign events, enjoyed dinner at the governor’s mansion and even received invitations to the gubernatorial ball. They have been in the state capitol lobbying almost every day since the beginning of the legislative session while committing violations of the state’s ethics laws by not disclosing the source of their donors and not officially registering as lobbyists.

When animal fighting enthusiasts and traffickers lobby for a reduction in penalties for the crime of animal fighting, it’s because the penalty they’re proposing is something they consider an acceptable cost of doing business.

The cockfighters and sponsors of HB 2530 have even made an outrageous comparison to current criminal justice reform initiatives regarding low-level drug possession. But there’s no comparing that kind of reform, which seeks to engage the problem of individuals’ substance abuse more constructively, with softening penalties for the intentional, organized and violent crimes of dogfighting and cockfighting.

A pit found on the scene of a raid of an alleged cockfighting ring.
Meredith Lee/The HSUS

Animal fighters are not farmers and do not represent rural views

When it’s convenient—like when they’re walking the halls of state capitols or attending dinners with politicians—cockfighters often claim to be farmers representing the views of rural citizens. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Here are the facts. These dangerous bills are being pushed by owners of large gamefowl “farms”—large tracts of land on which hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of roosters are bred and sold for the purpose of fighting. They’re trying to pass themselves off as farmers, but the truth is that they are a direct threat to legitimate farmers and bird flocks because of the high risk of spreading avian influenza and virulent Newcastle disease.

The fighting birds these individuals raise are not being raised to produce food. Instead, these gamefowl “farm” owners are fueling the global cockfighting industry.

Polling in some of the largest cockfighting states—Oklahoma, Kentucky and Georgia—shows that people from all regions and political affiliations oppose animal fighting. In an October 2022 poll, 91.3% of Oklahoma voters, including 86.6% of Republican voters, said they oppose reducing penalties for animal fighting.

What happens in Oklahoma could have negative implications nationwide

Dogfighters and cockfighters across the country are watching to see what happens in Oklahoma. Some of them are donating money to the cockfighting PAC there and contacting Oklahoma legislators to support the bills.

Animal fighting injures more than animals—it wreaks havoc on communities. The Association of Prosecuting Attorneys states that there is “a direct link between the criminal acts of animal fighting and other serious felonies, such as illegal firearms and gambling, drug distribution, money laundering, aggravated assaults, child pornography, human trafficking and gang activity. Experts recognize the need for higher penalties for animal fighting and its associated activities, including the trafficking of animals and being a spectator to a fight. … Animal fighting is a crime of violence, injuring and killing thousands of animals per year. It is a crime that warrants felony accountability.”

Passage of these bills in Oklahoma could create a domino effect, leading to softer penalties regarding animal fighting in other jurisdictions. If that happens, we’ll be battling dangerous bills like these in states across the country over the next few years. Countless animals will suffer and die in fighting pits because the penalty will be the equivalent of a speeding ticket and essentially meaningless.

If you live in Oklahoma, call your state senator and urge a vote against HB 2530 and HB 1792. There is no place for animal fighting in the more humane world we are trying to create.

Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.