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Opinion | Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act would help stamp out illegal cockfighting

“This isn’t Ancient Rome. It’s 2021. No civilized society should tolerate this form of staged cruelty.”


The origin of cockfighting dates back thousands of years, but it was during Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage to the Philippines in 1521 that modern cockfighting was first documented by his chronicler, Antonio Pigafetta, in the kingdom of Taytay. It’s a grisly and still-rampant blood-sport, unnervingly present in the Yellowhammer State.

Most states banned cockfighting in the 19th Century, and in the 21st Century, Congress has made cockfighting a felony and banned it everywhere in the U.S.

That federal legislative effort started in earnest in 2002, and it’s now a crime to fight animals in every part of the U.S. It’s also a crime to train birds for fighting; ship them across state, territorial or national lines; to traffic in the fighting weapons cockfighters attach to the birds’ legs; or to attend a fight or bring a minor to one.

Most recently a provision that outlawed cockfighting in the U.S. Territories was signed into law in the 2018 Farm Bill. We worked hard to secure the latest provision – banning animal fighting in the U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam – and that provision won support from Reps. Robert Aderholt, R-Haleyville; Mo Brooks, R-Huntsville; Gary Palmer, R-Birmingham; and Terri Sewell, D-Selma.

We followed up on the new law by conducting an investigation of live-animal shipping records to Guam. We found records for 9,000 birds shipped to Guam from the states, and it was plain that these transports were animals bound for Guam’s fighting pits.

Our investigation revealed that Alabama cockfighters are deeply involved in the global trade of fighting animals. Little has been done by local or federal authorities to stop this disregard for the law.

Since then, we’ve conducted more eye-opening investigations, the most recent in North Carolina last month. And in recent weeks, 300 gamecocks were seized in Las Vegas, Nevada; 70 more confiscated in Los Angeles County, California; eight cockfighters arrested in Chickamauga, Georgia; and two scofflaws convicted on cockfighting charges in northern Nevada last week. And an investigator and animal advocate was attacked in Ohio last month — a terrible display of violence. 

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Animal fighting is animal abuse — plain and simple. The illegal gambling adds to lawlessness. Bringing children to the fights, using, or distributing narcotics, and engaging in other illegal activities should make the whole enterprise a hot target for the U.S. Deptartment of Justice, and for state and local law enforcement.

It’s not only inhumane and unconscionable but it’s a health and human safety threat, given the role of cockfighting in spreading Newcastle disease, and Avian influenza — something everyone should be mindful of amidst the current pandemic.

It’s clear that COVID-19 most likely jumped the species barrier from animal to mankind in a live-wildlife market in Wuhan, China, and the conditions surrounding cockfighting aren’t that different with cockfighters often sucking the blood out of roosters’ lungs themselves in mouth-to-mouth resuscitation-like contact so the gamecocks can continue to fight to the death — blood and feathers flying all around.

But there is hope with the Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act that will soon be reintroduced in the 117th Congress. The bill would create an Animal Cruelty Crimes Unit at DOJ to better enforce federal anti-cockfighting and cruelty laws. We also hope to see a new bill in the Alabama Legislature to strengthen the state’s anemic anti-cockfighting law.

Opposing animal cruelty is a non-partisan issue, and we call on state lawmakers to strengthen the law and for federal lawmakers to back the ACE Act in Congress.  This isn’t Ancient Rome. It’s 2021. No civilized society should tolerate this form of staged cruelty.

Marty Irby is a native Alabamian from Mobile who currently serves as executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect animals. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @MartyIrby.

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