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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Unfinished Business: Cracking Down on Animal Fighting Spectators

The first major animal protection bill of the 113th Congress was introduced today, and it’s a key piece of unfinished business that got to the one-yard line in the last session. U.S. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., John Campbell, R-Calif., and Jim Moran, D-Va., have reintroduced the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act—to close a loophole in the federal animal fighting statute and make it a crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight. We are grateful to these lawmakers for leading this effort in the House of Representatives, and hope you will take action and ask your own U.S. Representative to join as a co-sponsor of H.R. 366.

Animal fightingDuring the last Congress, the Senate passed this reform twice—first during debate on the Farm Bill in June, when it was approved as an amendment by a vote of 88 to 11, and second on its own, when it passed by voice vote in December. The House Agriculture Committee also approved the legislation by a vote of 26 to 19, when it was offered as an amendment to the Farm Bill in July. But the House and Senate didn’t reach agreement on a final Farm Bill. And House leaders failed to allow a floor vote on the free-standing animal fighting bill, even though it had 228 House cosponsors (more than half of the House), had zero cost to the government, and was endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and more than 300 sheriffs and police departments from all 50 states.

Spectators are more than just bystanders at animal fights. It is spectator admission fees and gambling dollars that finance these criminal operations. Each time two more animals are placed in the pit, the spectators start shouting out bets, gambling on which animal will kill the other. Even worse, animal fighters use the spectator loophole as a means to avoid prosecution. At the first sign of a raid many will abandon their animals and blend into the crowd, claiming to be spectators as a way to avoid prosecution.

Moreover, outlawing attendance at animal fights is a well-established, legally sound, workable enforcement mechanism. Already 49 states have laws banning attendance at dogfights and 43 states prohibit attendance at cockfights. Montana is the only state where it’s still legal to attend a dogfight. When animal fighting cases are brought by state and local officials, those laws are put to use.

Animal_fightingBut many animal fighting rings are multi-jurisdictional in nature. A local sheriff does not have the authority or the resources to go to other states to question people who attend an animal fight or may otherwise be involved in an animal fighting ring that originates in their backyard but involves numerous others living in other jurisdictions. In those cases, federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture step in and investigate. Federal agents use federal laws, and the current federal animal fighting statute, while strong in many respects, has this one remaining gap that needs to be filled. H.R. 366 will give law enforcement the tools they need to make sure that the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting is prosecuted.

HSUS investigators have assisted law enforcement agents in many dogfighting and cockfighting raids throughout the years, and one constant reality at these fights is the presence of children. It’s hard to imagine a place less appropriate for a child than an animal fight filled with cruelty, blood-letting and criminal activity. One recent case put a spotlight on this very issue: In December, police in Chester County, Pa., discovered a dogfighting pit in a home where five children lived.

H.R. 366 would finally make it a federal crime to knowingly bring a minor to an animal fight, and crack down on the spectators who fuel the criminal animal fighting industry with their admission fees and gambling wagers. Please add your voice and encourage your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor this critical legislation today.

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