U.S. Senate Passes Legislation to Crack Down on Illegal Animal Fighting

On April 29th, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) praised the U.S. Senate for passing legislation that authorizes felony-level jail time for violations of the federal law on animal fighting (dogfighting, cockfighting, and "hog-dog rodeos"), and prohibits interstate and foreign commerce of cockfighting weapons.

The Senate bill, S. 382, was introduced by Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) with eleven original co-sponsors. The Senate approved the provision unanimously. Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA), Ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Republican Conference Chair Rick Santorum (R-PA) played key roles in winning Senate passage. An identical bill in the House, H.R. 817, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Mark Green (R-WI) and 70 co-sponsors, is awaiting passage.

The bills amend Title 18 of the U.S. Code to upgrade the maximum jail time from the one-year misdemeanor level in current law to felony-level of up to two years. The bills also bar interstate and foreign commerce in the razor-sharp knives and ice-pick-like "gaffs" that are specially designed to be strapped on birds' legs in cockfights. The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2005 brings federal law in line with most state laws; dogfighting is now a felony in 48 states and cockfighting in 31.

"As a veterinarian, I believe passage of this bill is a vital step in ending one of the most barbaric practices concerning animals that exists today," said Senator Ensign.

"We commend the Senate for toughening penalties for the barbaric and gruesome practice of animal fighting," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. "Misdemeanor penalties are only a 'slap on the wrist' that provide no meaningful deterrent for people who profit from the torment and torture of animals, and the law should provide no refuge for the people who perpetrate these acts of calculated cruelty."

Despite tougher state laws and a dramatic recent increase in the number of animal fighting raids by state and local authorities, the animal fighting industry has continued to thrive across the United States. It is fueled by high-stakes illegal gambling, and is often associated with illegal drug trafficking and acts of human violence. Numerous nationally-circulated magazines promote the cruel practices of dog fighting and cockfighting, and advertise fighting animals and the specialized weapons of animal fighting. More than 200 state and local sheriffs departments have called on Congress to enact the felony legislation so the federal government can be a more active partner in their efforts to keep animal fighting outside their borders.

"I am pleased that the United States Senate has been able to pass this bill so expeditiously," said Senator Specter. "This legislation will provide federal prosecutors with the tools they need to pursue animal fighting cases. The effort to provide federal animal fighting prohibitions has been endorsed by more than 200 local police and sheriffs departments across the country, as well as organizations like The Humane Society of the United States, which has played a major role in advancing this legislation."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Chicken Council (which represents 95 percent of U.S. poultry producers and processors) have also endorsed the legislation, citing humane concerns as well as concerns about disease transmission. Cockfighting was a key factor in the spread of a fatal poultry illness

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