Gov. Davis Signs Bill Strengthening Animal Fighting Penalties

The Humane Society of the United States
Tuesday, 2 September 2003

The HSUS is applauding California Governor Gray Davis for signing legislation that significantly strengthens California's anti-cockfighting law. Gov. Davis signed the bill, which takes effect January 1, today.
The bill was introduced by State Senator Nell Soto (D-32nd) of Ontario and sponsored by The HSUS, and had backing from other humane organizations, law enforcement agencies throughout the state, and the state's major agricultural organizations.

The bill raises penalties for a first offense of illegal cockfighting to a fine of up to $5,000. Penalties for a second offense increase to a fine of up to $25,000. The current law allows for only misdemeanor penalties with up to a $1,000 fine and a year in a county jail.

"The Humane Society of the United States is very grateful to Governor Davis for signing this legislation to crack down on the barbaric and widespread practice of cockfighting," states Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of The HSUS. "With hundreds of thousands of dollars changing hands at some organized cockfights, pitifully small fines are considered a minor cost of doing business. The only way to shrink the prevalence of cockfighting is to provide penalties that will bankrupt anyone who is a repeat offender."

"Cockfighting is not only inhumane, but it is also often associated with a range of other criminal activities, including illegal gambling and narcotics trafficking," adds Eric Sakach, director of the West Coast Region of The HSUS, based in Sacramento. "California's penalties for illegal cockfighting have traditionally been much weaker than other states in the West, and the enactment of this legislation sends a signal to cockfighters that our state won't tolerate this conduct."

"Cockfighting is a vicious, cruel and violent activity that has not been deterred by existing law," Senator Soto said following passage of the bill in the Legislature on August 19. "My bill will give law enforcement personnel the tools they need to crack down on this so-called sport by pursuing serious penalties against people who break the law."

All of the states bordering California - Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon - have felony-level penalties for cockfighting. Earlier this year, a few federal law banning any interstate transport or exports of fighting animals took effect. A new bill to establish felony penalties for illegal animal fighting is now pending in Congress, and is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

California officials acted quickly to enact this legislation after evidence surfaced linking illegal cockfighting to the spread of the highly contagious Exotic Newcastle Disease, which resulted in containment efforts that involved killing almost four million chickens. These efforts have come at a price, including more than $11 million dollars to compensate cockfighters and other backyard farmers for the loss of birds killed as part of disease eradication efforts.

During the course of the containment effort for Exotic Newcastle Disease, state and federal authorities have been stunned by the number of fighting bird operations. Some observers have claimed that there are 50,000 operations in the state. One such operation was raided earlier in August, resulting in the seizure of 2,000 roosters in American Canyon.

California joins Florida and Oregon in strengthening animal fighting laws this year. The bloodsport remains legal only in Louisiana and parts of New Mexico.

The HSUS has more than seven million members and constituents. The HSUS is a mainstream voice for animals, with active programs in companion animals and equine protection, wildlife and habitat protection, animals in research and farm animals and sustainable agriculture. The HSUS has protected all animals through legislation, litigation, investigation, education, advocacy and field work. The non-profit organization, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2004, is based in Washington, DC and has 10 regional offices across the country.

For more information, or to contact The Humane Society of the United States, see their website at: www.hsus.org

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