Senate Passes Landmark Animal Fighting Legislation

On April 10, 2007, animal advocates celebrated a victory almost six years in the making as the U.S. Senate unanimously approved H.R. 137, the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act. The bill, which was also approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in a vote of 368 to 39 on March 26, will now go to President Bush for his signature.

"The passage of this legislation should deal a devastating blow to the vast underground network of dogfighting and cockfighting operations doing their miserable business every day in every state in the nation," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, which has led the nation's fight against staged animal fights. "We have a zero tolerance policy for animal fighting, and the passage of this legislation embeds that concept in federal law."

The HSUS has documented the cruelty associated with animal fighting, but also a range of other criminal practices, such as narcotics trafficking, gambling, and violence against people.

The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act establishes a felony-level penalty of up to three years of jail time for any interstate or foreign transport of animals for fighting purposes (until now only a misdemeanor) and makes it a crime to move cockfighting weapons in interstate or foreign commerce.

Animal Fighting Violence

The fighting dog's life is one of misery. Valued only for their ability to win, dogs who survive a match often receive little care for their injuries and are barely provided with the basics they need to survive-food, water and shelter. Many live on chains or in stacked cages in extended isolation, only getting off for training or a match.

Fights may last for as long as two hours, with dogs often succumbing to shock and blood loss. There is also no rescue for fighting dogs, as confiscated fighting dogs are typically euthanized due to their unsuitability for adoption.

Dogfighting is banned in all 50 states, and is a felony in all but two.

Cockfighting is a barbaric practice in which two or more specially bred birds, known as gamecocks, are placed in a pit fight for the entertainment of crowds of people who place bets on which bird will win. The birds commonly sustain punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes - and sometimes both birds die in the combat. Lethal wounds are inflicted by razor-sharp knives or ice pick-like gaffs that are strapped to the birds' legs.

Cockfighting is illegal in every state except Louisiana, and is a felony in 33 states.

The attendance of young children at these events is especially disturbing. Lawmakers have expressed concern about the potential for the worldwide trade in fighting birds to spread bird flu and other deadly diseases.

The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act

H.R. 137, the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, introduced by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), was endorsed by more than 500 groups, including all major humane organizations, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Chicken Council, the National Sheriffs' Association, and more than 400 local law enforcement agencies covering all 50 states.

The Senate companion legislation, S. 261, was introduced by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

"With the passage of one of the strongest animal protection laws in the nation, we expect to see many cockfighters and dogfighters pack it in and stop flouting the law," added Pacelle. "But some dogfighters and cockfighters will not cease their criminal activities, and The HSUS will do all within its power to find these operators and bring these would-be felons to justice."