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The HSUS and HSLF Applaud House Agriculture Committee for Cracking Down on Animal Fighting

Farm Bill Amendment by Rep. Jim McGovern Closes Loophole in Federal Law by Outlawing Attendance at Dogfights and Cockfights

WASHINGTON (July 12, 2012) -- The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund applaud Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and other members of the House Agriculture Committee who voted in favor of his amendment to the Farm Bill last night to bar attending or bringing a child to a dogfight or cockfight. The amendment passed the committee by a vote of 26 to 19, and is now included in the version of the Farm Bill poised for consideration on the House floor. The U.S. Senate previously approved a similar amendment, offered by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., by a vote of 88 to 11.

The federal animal fighting law already makes it a felony to stage fights, possess or train animals for fighting, or to move animals or cockfighting implements in interstate commerce for fighting purposes.  The McGovern amendment prohibits attendance at organized animal fights and bringing a child to these bloody and illegal spectacles. The amendment is nearly identical to the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, H.R. 2492, introduced by Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, which has more than 200 co-sponsors, and S. 1947, introduced by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Scott Brown, R-Mass.

Over the past decade, Congress has strengthened the penalties for and closed major loopholes in the federal law addressing dogfighting, cockfighting, and other forms of animal fighting but has left the issue of spectators unaddressed. This legislation will correct this remaining gap in federal law to allow for a more comprehensive crackdown on this barbaric activity.

“Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, make the enterprise profitable through admission fees and wagering, and help conceal and protect the handlers and organizers,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “We hope that federal investigators who raid large-scale animal fighting operations will soon be able to prosecute the entire cast of characters who sustain dogfighting and cockfighting thanks to the outstanding leadership of Congressman McGovern and Senator Vitter.”

“I’m very proud of the Agriculture Committee for supporting this amendment in a bipartisan way,” Rep. McGovern said.  “Animal fights are violent, gory, criminal spectacles, and the loophole for so-called ‘spectators’ needs to be closed.  I look forward to working with my colleagues to ensure that this language becomes the law of the land.”

The House Agriculture Committee also, disappointingly, approved an amendment to the Farm Bill by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, which is intended to summarily void dozens of duly enacted state laws, state citizen ballot initiatives, state constitutional provisions, and key state health and safety regulations across the country. This provision amounts to a radical federal overreach and seeks to rob the states of their historic police power to legislate for the health, safety, and welfare of their citizens. Never before has Congress passed such a sweeping attempt to override state legislative authority, and The HSUS and HSLF urge the House to reject the King amendment.

“Before failing in his attempt to block an effort to strengthen federal laws against illegal dogfighting and cockfighting – a crusade he led as a state lawmaker and now as a Congressman -- Steve King succeeded in passing an amendment that seeks to nullify countless state and local laws duly approved by lawmakers or voters to promote food safety, worker protection, or animal welfare,” said Pacelle. “He doesn’t want the federal government to pass any laws to protect animals or consumer safety, and now he wants to nullify or prevent any such laws at the state and local level, too. We cannot allow the Farm bill to pass with such a poison pill provision that tramples on the rights and jeopardizes people and animals.”

Animal Fighting Facts:

  • It is illegal in 49 states to be a knowing spectator at an animal fight.  The McGovern amendment establishes federal criminal penalties for knowing attendance and for knowingly causing a minor to attend.
  • The law would not affect “innocent bystanders,” because organized animal fighting is a federal crime and illegal in all 50 states; this activity is highly clandestine and spectators don’t just accidentally happen upon a fight. They seek out the criminal activity at secret locations, often need passwords to enter, and pay admission fees for the opportunity to watch and gamble on the gruesome show – facts that a prosecutor might use as evidence to prove that a defendant knowingly attended.
  • Spectators pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise. The fights would not occur without the crowd betting on the outcome and enjoying the bloodletting.
  • Often spectators are themselves participants in animal fights, waiting their turn at a typical organized animal fight, with several rounds during an event or derby. When police raid an animal fight, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between spectators and participants who were going to fight their dog or bird in the next match.
  • Animal fighting is also closely associated with other criminal activities such as gangs, narcotics, illegal weapons possession, public corruption and various violent crimes.  A three-year study by the Chicago Police Department found that 70 percent of animal offenders had also been arrested for other felonies, including domestic and aggravated battery, illegal drug trafficking and sex crimes.
  • The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act has been endorsed by the Fraternal Order of Police, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and nearly 200 law enforcement agencies from across the country.

The following House Agriculture Committee members voted yes on the McGovern amendment: Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.; Glenn Thompson, R-Pa.; Austin Scott, R-Ga.; Martha Roby, R-Ala.; Renee Ellmers, R-N.C.; Chris Gibson, R-N.Y.; Bobby Schilling, R-Ill.;  Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; Tim Holden, D-Pa.; Mike McIntyre, D-N.C.; Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa; Joe Baca, D-Calif.; Dennis Cardoza, D-Calif.; David Scott, D-Ga.; Henry Cuellar, D-Texas; Tim Walz, D-Minn.; Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.; Larry Kissell, D-N.C.; Bill Owens, D-N.Y.; Chellie Pingree, D-Maine; Joe Courtney, D-Conn.; Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio; Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Marianas; Terri Sewell, D-Ala.; and Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

The following House Agriculture Committee members voted no on the McGovern amendment: Frank Lucas, R-Okla.; Robert Goodlatte, R-Va.; Steve King, R-Iowa; Randy Neugebauer, R-Texas; Michael Conaway, R-Texas; Jean Schmidt, R-Ohio; Tom Rooney, R-Fla.; Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.; Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio; Scott Tipton, R-Colo.; Steve Southerland, R-Fla.; Rick Crawford, R-Ark.; Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.; Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.; Randy Hultgren, R-Ill.; Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.; Reid Ribble, R-Wis.; Kristi Noem, R-S.D.; Jim Costa, D-Calif.

Media contact: Rebecca Basu, (240) 753-4875,


The Humane Society Legislative Fund is a social welfare organization incorporated under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code and formed in 2004 as a separate lobbying affiliate of The Humane Society of the United States. The HSLF works to pass animal protection laws at the state and federal level, to educate the public about animal protection issues, and to support humane candidates for office. Visit us on all our channels: on the web at, on our blog at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at