Lawmakers Hope to Make Attendance at Animal Fights a Federal Crime

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August 19, 2013 | 7,701 views

Story at-a-glance

  • Lawmakers in D.C. are trying to close a federal law loophole that allows spectators at animal fights, as well as organizers and promoters, to continue to support and profit from this abhorrent form of animal cruelty.
  • According to Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, “This blood sport continues to be well-financed regularly and routinely by crowds of spectators who also engage in illegal activities such as gambling, drug dealing and extortion — generating thousands of dollars in illegal bets and attendance fees.”
  • The legislation calls for prison sentences and fines for spectators at animal fights, and even stiffer penalties for anyone who brings a minor to a fight.

By Dr. Becker

In April of this year, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Federal Rights and Agency Action, along with three other senators, introduced a bill called the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2013 (S. 666).

The reason behind the bill, per Sen. Blumenthal:

Despite reforms to tighten prohibitions against animal fighting, a glaring federal law loophole remains: Attendance at an animal fight must be made a federal crime. This blood sport continues to be well-financed regularly and routinely by crowds of spectators who also engage in illegal activities such as gambling, drug dealing and extortion — generating thousands of dollars in illegal bets and attendance fees.

The proposed legislation calls for a federal prison sentence or fine for anyone who knowingly attends an animal fight. According to Blumenthal, while many states have laws on the books that criminalize attendance at animal fights, these “events” typically attract spectators from different states. Local and state law enforcement officials need federal legislation to effectively prosecute spectators who attend animal fights.

“A federal law to deter people from attending animal fights would give local and state law enforcement vital help, authority and support to attack this abhorrent activity at its root,” says Blumenthal.

Blumenthal’s Bill Calls for Prison Time and Fines for Spectators at Animal Fights

Often when an animal fight is raided by law enforcement, the organizers and promoters claim they are simply spectators, thereby avoiding punishment. According to Sen. Blumenthal, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act would allow law enforcement to hold everyone at a fight accountable. This would make it easier to identify and prosecute those who actually organize and profit from fights.

The bill calls for up to one year in prison and fines for spectators at animal fights, and if a person brings a minor to a fight, he or she can receive up to three years in prison plus fines. Blumenthal writes:

Astonishingly, children are often forced to watch the maiming and torturing at animal fights because an adult brings them or because they live at a residence where these fights are hosted. Such compelled attendance is not only a form of child abuse, but also leads to psycho-social conditioning that encourages a child, at best, to ignore a living creature’s suffering or at worst, to enjoy it.

Bird Fighting Rings in Connecticut Raided

A few years ago, local Shelton, Connecticut and state law enforcement officers raided a residential bird fighting operation that was using canaries and Saffron finches. During the raid, officials found $8,000 in cash and 150 birds that were being trained to fight. Needless to say, many of the birds were injured, and some were permanently disfigured from previous fights.

The police arrested 19 people and charged them with animal cruelty and gambling. Some of those arrested were from Massachusetts and New Jersey, demonstrating the multistate nature of the problem.

The same year, state police raided a cockfighting operation at a home in Harwinton, Connecticut. More than 350 chickens and roosters were confiscated, and all were euthanized because they were deemed “too aggressive.” The organizers of the fights had cut off the combs and wattles of the birds, and shaved and de-feathered them so spectators could see which ones drew “first blood.”

Future of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act

According to Sen. Blumenthal, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act was added as an amendment to both the Senate and House versions of the farm bill (the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act) last year, which did not become law. The bill passed the Senate by voice vote in early December 2012, but stalled in the House.

Currently, the bill has 14 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate and 147 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House, and has been included as a provision of the Senate’s 2013 farm bill. The legislation also has the support of several animal welfare groups and about 300 law enforcement organizations.

“My hope is that the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act will become law this year. Closing the spectator loophole in federal animal fighting statutes will help close the books on this inhumane activity,” says Blumenthal.

More information on this legislation can be found at the Animal Welfare Institute and the Humane Society of the United States.

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