Picture a smoke-filled room, a cheering crowd with money to gain or lose on the outcome, and in the ring two opponents who relentlessly batter one another until they draw blood and one collapses in defeat.
No, it’s not a high-stakes prize fight with two humans punching each other senseless. The fighters are dogs or roosters, and this blood sport has been part of American culture since colonial times. Animal fighting is now illegal in every state in the union, and it’s also a federal crime, yet it continues to flourish, not only in rural areas and small towns but also in every big city. The fights are often family events, with young children accompanying their parents and acquiring a taste for violence.
The Michael Vick case in Virginia briefly put the problem in the national spotlight, with little lasting impact. Now Congress is attempting, with new legislation, to close the final loopholes and give federal authorities the right to prosecute spectators at fights along with the organizers. Adults who bring children to fights would face extra penalties.
The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, introduced as an amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill by Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, was recently approved by an overwhelming, bipartisan Senate vote of 85-11. The only Senators who voted against it were Alexander (R-TN), Bingaman (D-NM), Burr (R-NC), Coburn (R-OK), DeMint (R-SC), Graham (R-SC), Inhofe (R-OK), Lee (R-UT), Paul (R-KY), Rubio (R-FL), and Sessions (R-AL).
“These crimes are a federal matter,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), “and the federal response ought to be as strong as possible. Animal fighting encourages the worst in the human condition, and members from both sides of the aisle have been vocal in their commitment to putting an end to this inhumane activity.”
The bill has now gone to the House of Representatives for consideration. Republican Rep. Tom Marino called the Senate’s approval “an important step toward finally ending animal fighting activities” and urged his colleagues in the House to give it strong bipartisan support.
Some might argue that policing animal fights is up to the states and that Congress and federal law enforcement agencies should stay out of it, but the truth is that the states aren’t doing the job.
Dogfighting is a felony in every state, and all states except two (Hawaii and Montana) have spectator provisions that make attendance at a fight either a felony or a misdemeanor. Yet enforcement is lax and a fine is often the only punishment.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states but is a felony in only 39. In some states, even though the sport is illegal, possession of cockfighting “implements” – the razor-sharp blades attached to roosters’ feet so they can stab and slice each other to death – is still legal. As with dogfighting, enforcement is spotty and penalties are light.
The brutality inflicted on the animals all of their brief lives is reason enough to crack down on fighting, but the harm these operations do goes far beyond that. The fights support illegal gambling and drug dealing, and they foster a culture of violence by desensitizing those who participate. A study by the Chicago Police Department found that 65 percent of offenders charged with cruelty to animals have also committed violent crimes against people. An animal fighting operation is a toxic pool that spreads poison into the surrounding community.
If you feel the same way I do, let your member of the House of Representatives know that you support the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.