Animal Fighting to Carry Felony Penalties

by Kimberly Coleman
Posted on November 17, 2003

The Healthy Forests Initiative, also known as HR1532, passed the Senate in October 2003. The Initiative carried an amendment that would make the transport of animals or fighting implements across state lines a felony offense. US Senator John Ensign (R- NV) added the anti-cockfighting verbiage to HR 1532. The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act would allow law enforcement to hand out felony-level jail time and penalties for those convicted of animal fighting. It also stipulates procedures for animal seizure and disposal after arrests have been made.

Before HR1532 and its anti-cockfighting amendment becomes law, it must pass a conference committee. The committee will decide if the amendment to HR1532 will remain. The conference committee had received legislation in the form of the 2002 Farm Bill that had similar verbiage with regard to felony penalties for animal fighting. The bill was passed by Senate and Congress; however, the verbiage was stripped from the 2002 Farm Bill at the committee level.

Animals used in fighting are brutalized. Dogs, often starved and drugged in order to heighten aggressive behavior, are forced to fight in pits while illegal gambling, prostitution and drug dealing occurs on the side. The dogs' 'fighting skills' are sometimes developed by giving them 'live bait' in the form of captured, tethered stray cats who cannot escape from them. Cocks are also drugged to encourage aggressive tendencies. In addition to being thrown in the pit to fight to the death, cocks have knives strapped to them to intensify the fighting and the damage they inflict on each other. Despite the best efforts of law enforcement, animal fighting rings move frequently in order to avoid arrest. Those that are caught and convicted face very lenient fines which, in most cases, are minor compared to the revenues that the fights bring in.

Should the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act be passed along with HR1532, law enforcement would be able to further prosecute those that are convicted. The passing of this bill into law would give law enforcement the right to seize and take control of the animals and materials used in fighting as well as allow stricter felony sentences to be handed down. Current federal laws already award felony sentencing to those convicted of transporting animal cruelty videos across state lines. Anyone convicted of harming federal animals such as police dogs and horses carry mandatory jail time. State level legislation lists dog fighting and cockfighting as felonies within the boundaries of their state. This bill, if passed, would allow law enforcement to trace the animal fighting rings across state lines.