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U.S. Senate Bill Introduced to Crack Down on Animal Fighting Spectators

HSLF Applauds Senators Blumenthal, Kirk, Cantwell, and Brown for Introducing this Anti-Crime and Anti-Cruelty Legislation

(Dec. 6, 2011) -- The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund applaud U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Scott Brown, R-Mass., for today introducing the bipartisan Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2011, which would prohibit knowing attendance at organized animal fights and impose additional penalties for causing a minor to attend such events.

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. A House version of the bill, H.R. 2492, was introduced in July by U.S. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, and now has 129 cosponsors.

“Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, make the criminal enterprise profitable through their admission fees and gambling wagers, and help conceal handlers and organizers who try to blend into the crowd when a bust occurs,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “We are grateful to Senators Blumenthal, Kirk, Cantwell and Brown for their leadership on this important anti-crime and anti-cruelty legislation. We call on Congress to swiftly pass it and give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting.”

It is illegal in 49 states to be a knowing spectator at an animal fight. A majority – 28 states – impose felony-level penalties on spectators. This bill imposes federal misdemeanor penalties for knowing attendance and felony penalties for causing a minor to attend. State and federal law enforcement agencies often work together to enforce animal fighting laws, and the federal law will complement the state laws on animal fighting spectators.

“Animal fighting is a cruel and inhumane criminal enterprise perpetuated by the spectators who fund it,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. “This bill seeks to extinguish the horrific treatment of animals and risks to public safety associated with animal fighting. Exposing innocent children to animal fighting as spectators unconscionably continues the vicious cycle of cruelty and abuse.”

"By making it a crime to knowingly attend an animal fight we deny event organizers the revenue that funds future events," said Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill. "This legislation is consistent with state animal fighting laws and closes the final loophole to ending the inhumane practice of animal fighting. Just last month in Illinois, a Cook County judge found a South Holland resident guilty of running a dog fighting ring following a 2007 raid on a compound that rescued 37 dogs and found materials consistent with dog fighting. This bipartisan legislation would prevent large dog fighting rings like this from operating."

“Enacting tough penalties is an important step to end the cruel practice of animal fighting,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. “We’ve made great progress already in disrupting animal fighting by making it a federal crime to transport animals for fighting across state lines. This bill would build on that success by giving law enforcement new tools to crack down on those who attend and participate in illegal animal fighting.”

“I am proud to help lead a bipartisan effort which will give law enforcement and prosecutors additional tools to combat animal cruelty,” said Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass. “Animal fighting events are barbaric and cesspools of gang and other criminal activity.”

The law would not affect “innocent bystanders” or reach to situations where two animals fight without provocation by animal fighting organizers. 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.

Facts:

  • 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 of 2011 has been endorsed by 89 law enforcement agencies from 32 states.

Media contact: Katie Jarl, (301) 258-1483, kjarl@humanesociety.org

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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 hslf.org, on our blog at animalsandpolitics.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/humanelegislation and on Twitter at twitter.com/HSLegFund.