Why Is It So Tough To Make Cockfighting A Felony?

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Why Is It So Tough To Make Cockfighting A Felony?

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.

Saving Animals

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 loopholes.

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:

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.