United Poultry Concerns November, 9 2003

Washington lawmakers take aim at cockfighting

By JIM MYERS World Washington Bureau
11 /1/2003
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Provisions against the blood sport were added by a Nevada senator to a pending bill, later passed.

WASHINGTON -- Legislation designed to beef up penalties and crack down on illegal cockfights and shipments of birds and other animals for fighting was headed Friday to a joint conference.

U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R- Nev ., on Thursday attached his anti-cockfighting provisions to a forest initiative pushed by the White House.

That bill was passed later by the Senate.

Ensign's provisions would make it a felony to ship animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting and also ban the transportation of razors and other implements linked to animal fights.

"We have taken a major step toward ending one of the most barbaric practices concerning animals that exists today," the senator said.

"As a veterinarian, I have seen the results of this sickening activity, and the horrific injuries these animals can sustain. There is no place for animal fighting in our society."

Ensign's legislation has the support of The Humane Society of the United States .

"This is a strong bill," Humane Society Senior Vice President Wayne Pacelle said, calling animal fighting "despicable."

Pacelle said animal fighting not only involves extreme animal abuse but also is connected to other illegal activities such as gambling and narcotics trafficking.

Former U.S. Rep. Bill Brewster, D- Okla ., reportedly lobbies for the United Gamefowl Breed ers Association. Neither he nor a member of the association could be reached for comment.

In the past, supporters of cockfighting have expressed concern the new federal law, specifically its ban on foreign shipments, will block breeders from making a living.

Ensign's legislation represents a second opportunity for Congress to make shipments of birds for fighting a felony.

Last year both houses of Congress passed such legislation only to see the felony provision stripped out and replaced by language limiting penalties to a misdemeanor.

Supporters say that level of penalty essentially guts the law because it will not be enforced.

"It is time now to refine the law to make it workable and enforceable," Ensign said. " U.S. attorneys will actively pursue cases only when they can make felony charges against people who are involved in dog fighting and cockfighting activities."

The 2002 law took effect last May.

Pacelle also sees the need for stronger penalties, citing a number of publications on dog fighting and cockfighting and countless Web sites that cater to enthusiasts.

According to the Humane Society, a state official said as many as 50,000 backyard cockfighting operations are in Southern California alone.

All 50 states ban dog fighting and all but New Mexico and Louisiana have passed laws outlawing cockfighting.

In addition to beefing up penalties, Ensign's legislation also would allow the seizure of property involved in animal fighting ventures and clarify that activity on Indian Country would not negate its provisions regarding interstate and foreign commerce.

In Oklahoma , an attempt to create a "safe haven" for cockfighting under Indian law has surfaced.

Last year, state voters approved a new law making cockfighting illegal and subject to felony charges, but soon after that vote backers of cockfighting went to court to block its enforcement.

After an unfavorable ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court last month, an attorney for the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association indicated he may take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Jim Myers (202) 484- 1424


United Poultry Concerns is a nonprofit organization that promotes the compassionate and respectful treatment of domestic fowl. http://www.upc-online.org

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