Tougher Cockfighting & Dog Fighting Laws Passed by West Virginia and Ohio Lawmakers. Why California Should Care.

ANIMALWATCH-Cockfighting and dog fighting convictions would be upgraded to include felony-level penalties for repeat offenders and significantly increased fines for attending or participating in an animal fight under a Bill just passed by the West Virginia Senate (31-2). 

Other important provisions of this measure are that it prohibits gambling on any animal fight, possessing or training an animal for fighting, or bringing a minor to such an event. HB 4201 is now headed to the WV Governor’s desk, the Humane Society of the U.S. announced on March 14.

This long-sought increase in penalties for this abhorrent crime that pits animals against each other in a fight for their lives follows the February 24 announcement that the Ohio House of Representatives passed H.B. 215 to toughen that state’s law on cockfighting and enact felony level penalties for participation in this gruesome blood sport. 

The Ohio bill also includes the prohibition on gambling, the use of substances or devices to enhance fighting ability and forbids permitting or causing a minor to be present at such an event. 

“The Ohio House has moved to make cockfighting a felony and we call on the Senate to act soon. Ohio is the only Great Lakes state that fails to punish cockfighting as a felony. As a result, cockfighters from neighboring states are coming into Ohio to take advantage of their weak penalties for this crime,” explained John Goodwin of HSUS. “Ohioans don’t want a 'cockfighters welcome mat’ laid out at the state line and hopefully their Senators will agree.” 

Animal fighting in California is also pervasive. According to San Diego attorney Harold Holmes, who also has a long career background in law enforcement, “Cockfighting frequently comes to light in the Southern California region when people try to cross the international border with their birds. Often they are being hidden in very inhumane ways, that lead to suffering and even death of the birds just from being transported….These instances -- as with any case related to the fighting of animals or its related activities -- can lead to a variety of charges, separate from the bird’s involvement in combat.” 

Holmes continues, “Possession of a gamecock with the intent that it be fought and actually fighting the birds are both misdemeanors for first-time offenses in California. But anyone considering taking this risk needs to be aware that nothing precludes the prosecutor from charging felony animal cruelty when deliberate animal suffering can be shown.” 

Additionally, Holmes warns, “animal fighting involves other related activities including gambling, drugs, weapons, and conspiracy. Conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor offense is a felony in California. And then there is the international smuggling aspect when the border is crossed. That can move the case to federal court. This is also true in transporting the animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting.” 

“Investigators should always look at the big picture and consider all of the illegal activities that are associated with this violent, blood-lust crime,” attorney Holmes concludes. 

Cockfighting is often dismissed as a “tradition” conducted in areas with large immigrant populations. However, “blood sports” are pervasive throughout the world and in every ethnicity. In fact, national experts estimate that within two miles of everyone living in any metropolitan area of the U.S. is someone who is actively involved in illegal animal fighting -- either owning, breeding or training the animals themselves or attending or betting on bloody bouts where animals are forced to fight to death.  

Animal fighting is a lucrative, criminal gambling activity that is difficult for law enforcement to effectively address unless police arrive during an event. Neighbors are afraid to report known or suspected cockfighters because of the violent nature of the sport and its aficionados. 

It is a disturbing, perverse, public display of brutality. Participation for generations does not make this intentional cruelty acceptable or excusable. Participants and spectators attend for one main purpose -- to watch animals die. 

These events commonly include the use and sale of drugs and guns. They can also involve prostitution and human trafficking, including the forced presence of underage children for labor and sex.

Complaints of noise and suspected cockfighting in Southern California have brought law- enforcement officers to urban and rural locations where residents harbor from a few to thousands of roosters groomed for battle. 

Over 1,000 birds were seized in a cockfighting bust in Ontario, CA, in 2014. The

Huffington Post reported that, “Some of the participants were even high-level employees of Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties.” 

A January 23, 2016, bust in Midland County, TX that sent 41 people to jail was linked to a major national cocaine distributer. The investigation was assisted by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Department of Public Safety (DPS), United States Marshal’s Office and Homeland Security. In addition to $32,000 in cash and hundreds of fighting implements, the Saturday morning raid netted syringes, steroids and testosterone, a pistol with ammunition and cars worth up to $80,000. 

The advent of technology has entered the world of animal fighting and will bring increasing challenges to law-enforcement and animal-protection agencies. In fact, graphic Instagram videos showing roosters fighting to death led to the bust of a cockfighting ring in Fontana, CA, reported on February 17, 2016. 

Police officers went to a home in the 17300 block of Randall, where they found dozens of roosters, many injured and sick, along with more than a dozen short knives and sparring muffs used as implements. 

Fontana police officials said it appeared the account was being used to promote breeding, training, selling and fighting of roosters,” according to CBS Local News.  (Recent busts in Fillmore and Perris, CA, are also described at the CBS link.) 

Cockfighting is not a "sport" in which the match ends when one rooster proves its superiority. The long, sharp blades attached to the feet assure that the cutting and stabbing will be lethal or produce serious injury to at least one of the fighters. The death or inability of a bird to continue brings cheers from bloodthirsty spectators as numerous bouts continue. 

When these events are held in backyards, the worst members of society converge upon neighborhoods where children and innocent adults also become victims of noise, violence and exposure to criminals who would not otherwise be in the community. 

Absentee owners of rental property being used to raise and train fighting animals or conduct fights may have unexpected liability. 

Animal-fighting operations anywhere diminish property values in the surrounding area. 

The reason prohibition against bringing minors to cockfights is important in California law and is an important part of the pending laws in West Virginia and Ohio goes beyond humaneness to animals. Young children are often brought to watch these barbaric displays by parents or other relatives, creating a generation of youths who believe maiming and killing is the mark of a man. 

Nothing desensitizes a young person to pain and death more than illegal animal fighting. It is often a step in the passage into gang activity and can be a precursor to taking human lives. Participating in the barbaric torture and death of an animal can ease the transition to killing a rival gang member -- or anyone else.


(Animal activist Phyllis M. Daugherty writes for CityWatch and is a contributing writer to opposingviews.com. She lives in Los Angeles.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.