The Animal Wellness Foundation, based in Los Angeles, urged Congress in a release issued Monday to complete the work of outlawing cockfighting in the U.S. territories, including the USVI and Puerto Rico.
On Friday, the U.S. House passed an amendment to the farm bill that would ensure that longstanding federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting apply everywhere in the U.S., including in U.S. territories. The vote was 359 to 51, with 204 Republicans and 155 Democrats favoring the measure, led by Rep. Peter Roskam of Illinois and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, and offered during consideration of the Farm bill. U.S. Virgin Islands’ Delegate Stacy Plaskett (D) led the opposition to the amendment, arguing that cockfighting is a cultural right. She received support from long-time opponents of animal welfare, including Steve King, R-Iowa, and Dana Rohrbacher, R-Calif., but their opposition was not enough to turn back the measure.
“The House vote affirmed once again that there is a societal consensus that staged fights between animals should find no refuge anywhere in the United States,” says Dr. Annie Harvilicz, the president of the Animal Wellness Foundation. “It is insulting for apologists of dogfighting and cockfighting to claim there is a cultural right to conduct these activities. Good people in every part of the U.S. and throughout the world, no matter their ethnic heritage or race, recognize that staged fights are disgraceful and barbaric.”
According to the foundation, there are ambiguities in the federal Animal Welfare Act that create doubt about the enforceability of prohibitions against animal fighting in the U.S. territories. The amendment makes the law explicit that federal animal fighting law applies to all U.S. jurisdictions, including the U.S. territories. The Roskam-Blumenauer amendment mirrors the provisions of the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act (PACE) Act, H.R. 4202, which was introduced by Reps. Roskam, Blumenauer, Rodney Davis, R-Ill., Rick Nolan, D-Minn., Kevin Yoder, R-Kansas, Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif,, Steve Knight, R-Calif., Brad Sherman, D-Calif., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, according to the release.
The foundation argues that animal fighting pits animals against each other for the sole purpose of gambling and entertainment. It said the animals are often drugged to heighten their aggression and forced to keep fighting even after they’ve suffered grievous injuries such as broken bones, deep gashes, punctured lungs and pierced eyes. In cockfighting, birds have metal weapons attached to their legs and typically suffer slow painful deaths. Puerto Rico alone has more than 100 cockfighting arenas and pits, while dogfighting is legal in American Samoa and the Northern Marianas Islands, according to the release.
“The presence of an above-ground industry anywhere undermines the prohibitions in other parts of the country, giving animal fighters the patina of legitimacy and a market for fighting animals and paraphernalia,” added Dr. Harvilicz, a board certified veterinarian who runs a veterinary hospital centered around community-based animal care. “There shouldn’t be one set of rules against animal fighting in all 50 states and a different set of rules for the U.S. territories.”
According to the release, since 2002, Congress has upgraded the federal law against animal fighting four times, and the laws on this subject target anyone and everyone who engages in staged fights between animals. Under current federal law, it is a felony crime to sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture; to buy, sell, deliver, possess, train or transport an animal for fighting purposes; to use the Postal Service or other interstate means to promote animal fighting; to buy, sell, deliver or transport cockfighting implements; and to bring a minor to an animal fight. It is a federal misdemeanor to be a spectator at an animal fighting spectacle. The prohibitions include any animal fighting activity that affects interstate or foreign commerce. In short, much of the animal fighting occurring in U.S. territories is legally suspect now, and this amendment makes it clear that the activities are forbidden.
Animals used for animal fighting, including dogfighting and cockfighting, are at risk even when they are not in a fighting pit. They are typically tethered to the ground on large outdoor plots of land, and there is every reason to believe that when the recent hurricanes hit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Island last year, large numbers of animals drowned or otherwise suffered a miserable death, helpless to flee and protect themselves from the extreme weather, the release said.
The House is likely to try to pass the farm bill again soon, after it was narrowly defeated on Friday by a vote of 198 to 213. If the House does move to pass a new version of the bill, it is expected that the anti-animal fighting provision will be retained. The Animal Wellness Foundation urged leaders from the Senate Agriculture Committee to include an identical amendment to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act in its version of the farm bill.