By Sharon Seltzer on Care2.com
Last month I criticized Texas law officials and the Humane Society of the
United States about the lackluster outcome of their raid on a major cockfighting
operation. Most of the roosters were euthanized and the majority of participants
received minor fines.
This led to several eye opening conversations with John Goodwin, Manager of
Animal Fighting Issues for HSUS. He talked about his concern for the animals
used in the fights and his goal to save more of them. He also gave me a better
understanding of the uphill battle he and his colleagues fight everyday to stop
cockfighting in states where loopholes let participants walk away from their
crimes and where lobbyists work to keep cockfighting operations in business.
Goodwin shared how HSUS and other animal welfare groups plan to make 2010 the
year when the loopholes will be closed, animals will be saved and cockfighting
will be felony crime across the country.
In their latest bust of a cockfighting ring in Mississippi in late January,
HSUS proved good on their word about saving as many of the animals as possible.
Of the 225 birds seized, 95 of the hens and chicks were sent to sanctuaries in
Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.
A Legislative Fix
The good news is that cockfighting is a felony offense in 39 states and there
is proposed legislation to make it a felony in 7 of the remaining states.
(Lawmakers in the other 4 states don’t meet until 2011.)
The bad news is that even in the states where cockfighting is a felony, the
laws carry different penalties. For instance you have to be charged 2 times in
California and New Mexico, 3 times in Louisiana and 4 times in Nevada for
cockfighting before receiving jail time.
The states with proposed bills are: Alabama, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, West
Virginia and South Carolina. There is also a bill in Georgia to tighten
Why Felony Laws Are Needed
The theory behind this is if all 50 states are in compliance, it will squeeze
out the vast majority of cockfighting operations. Currently when one state
changes their law to a felony, operators and breeders move their business and
fights to a more lenient state. Some of these areas are so easy on participants;
they are given a maximum fine of $50 if caught at a fight.
When there are no more lenient states to run to – most cockfighting
operations will cease to exist. Operators and breeders will have to decide if
the money they can win at a fight is worth the risk of doing time in prison and
paying heavy fines.
Goodwin says, “Most people involved in cockfighting will get out of the
business. Only a handful will go underground.”
Getting Felony Laws Passed Should be a Cinch
You would think convincing lawmakers to make cockfighting a felony would be
easy. But cockfighting is a money-making machine and those in charge have done
everything possible to keep from losing this revenue source. According to
Goodwin the fights, which are called Derby’s typically have entry fees of about
$200 for each rooster, plus participants pay a fee to watch. Winners receive
purses of $10,000 - $15,000 per Derby and that doesn’t count the illegal betting
that goes on at events.
According to Goodwin this has spawned the creation of a group called – United
Gamefowl Breeders Association (UGBA). They are listed as a non-profit
organization whose goal is to protect history of gamefowl birds, but since 2003
HSUS and lawmakers have proven them to be a lobbyist organization that works to
keep cockfighting alive.
A document from HSUS cites these infractions:
- 2003 the current director of UGBA agreed to leave her post after her
group was found to be affiliated with illegal cockfighting in Louisiana.
- 2005 the FBI raided the Del Rio Game Club in Tennessee where they found
a letter from UGBA thanking them for their donation that would be used to
pay a Washington lobbyist.
- 2008 the Virginia affiliate of UGBA was indicted for raising money at
illegal cockfights and funneling them to political candidates.
- 2008 UGBA was accused of requiring cockfighting pits to become members
of the organization.
- 2009 the indictment of 3 alleged cockfighters included a statement that
memberships to UGBA were sold at fights.
According to Goodwin, Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon has complained
to the IRS to investigate UGBA on three occasions. The IRS has never revoked the
group’s non-profit status.
What You Can Do
Lawmakers need to know the public is aware of the issues involved in cockfighting and want the practice to stop. Write to them asking for their support for quality felony legislation. It is completely possible to eradicate cockfighting all across the country.