How Has Ohio Become a Cockfighting Capital?

By on February 4, 2016 with 1 Comment

Two recent incidents in Youngstown, Ohio, provide more evidence of how rampant cockfighting is in the state. Despite an agreement reached between The HSUS, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and the Ohio Poultry Association in 2010 to strengthen the state’s anti-cockfighting law, a handful of lawmakers have thwarted progress on legislation, leaving Ohio with one of the three most anemic anti-cockfighting laws in the nation. This toothless law has made Ohio a magnet for fighting enthusiasts, with lawbreakers from West Virginia, Indiana, and elsewhere scrambling into the Buckeye State because they know law enforcement has little incentive to act.

Last month, when U.S. marshals launched a manhunt for a suspect who escaped while being arrested for a domestic violence incident, they found plenty of evidence, debris, and death that made it plain that his residence doubled as a den for cockfighting: 20 live birds and around 25 dead birds were inside the home. According to news reports, the bones of many more birds were in a fire pit behind the house, and the bodies of still more were in trash bags strewn about the property.

A day later, neighbors alerted Mahoning County law enforcement officials to another possible ring, and humane agents seized 30 more birds after the investigation revealed a fighting pit and steroids. The 50 birds are now in the custody of Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ravenna, a group well familiar with the responsibility of caring for the victims of cockfighting in Ohio.

But by the time cockfights are in progress or breeding and fighting operations established, much of the abuse and cruelty has already occurred. We need laws to prevent this kind of depravity from happening in the first place. Ohio is aligned with Alabama and Mississippi as having the most flaccid anti-cockfighting laws. In Ohio, the maximum fine for cockfighting is $250.

There has been some progress on a bill that would strengthen Ohio’s cockfighting law, making it a felony under certain circumstances. In June 2015, with the support of committee chairman Jim Butler, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed HB 215. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Barbara Sears and Rep. Heather Bishoff, would create a felony if certain aggravating factors are present at the cockfighting site, such as illegal gambling, using devices like razor-sharp knives attached to roosters’ legs to increase bloodletting, or bringing a child to the fight. In addition to the support of agriculture and humane groups, law enforcement and religious groups, including the Southern Baptist Convention, back the measure.

The Ohio legislature has had years to pass this sensible and long overdue measure.  I can see a groundswell developing in the state: if there’s no decisive and favorable action in the legislature this year, there’ll be a strong push to launch a comprehensive ballot campaign. Any such ballot measure would inevitably be broader, designed to remedy a range of defects in the state’s anti-cruelty laws. It’s an embarrassment that cockfighting, puppy mills, and other forms of cruelty persist in the state. The time for making excuses is over, and something must be done.

Ending cruel practices like cockfighting is not just about putting a stop to animal abuse; there is plenty of evidence that shows these kinds of operations often serve as fronts for hardened and even organized criminals. A U.S. Department of Agriculture agent who brought down a large cockfighting operation in Kentucky this last year stated in an affidavit that Mexican organized crime figures had frequented the cockfights there, and had even brought in a hit man to kill a cockfighter who had laundered money. Federal investigations continue to reveal cockfights can be intricate illegal gambling enterprises, often associated with the distribution of large quantities of cocaine, heroin, and meth.

We look forward to a favorable vote on HB 215 when the Ohio legislature convenes next week. And we look forward to action in the Ohio senate on this issue. It’s time for Governor John Kasich to use his great influence in the state to call on lawmakers to upgrade the state’s law.

Slaying of Cecil Haunts Safari Club, as Group Gathers in Vegas

By on February 3, 2016 with 9 Comments
Slaying of Cecil Haunts Safari Club, as Group Gathers in Vegas

For years, the trophy-hunting crowd has treated the world as its playground. They’ve viewed rare creatures as collectibles, assuming that lavish spending on guides, outfitters, and foreign governments entitled them to do as they please in shooting up wildlife. This week, members of Safari Club International — the Arizona-based group that promotes competitive trophy-hunting activities across . . . 

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USDA Lab Results Show Horse Soring Crowd Looks More Than Ever Like Organized Criminals

By on February 2, 2016 with 12 Comments
USDA Lab Results Show Horse Soring Crowd Looks More Than Ever Like Organized Criminals

Trainers and owners in the “Big Lick” segment of the Tennessee Walking horse show world are addicted to injuring horses and breaking federal and state laws against animal cruelty in order to win ribbons at major horse shows. For evidence of that, look no further than the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest test results from . . . 

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Super Sonic Progress on Animal Welfare, Even as Trade Groups Dig In

By on February 1, 2016 with 0 Comments
Super Sonic Progress on Animal Welfare, Even as Trade Groups Dig In

Today, several of America’s biggest food retailers, including Sonic, a national fast-food chain based in Oklahoma City, announced new policies to make all eggs in their supply chain cage-free. It’s part of a corporate revolution that is rejecting extreme confinement of farm animals and embracing animal welfare reforms. Since last September, our cage-free campaign has made . . . 

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Breaking news: Captive Orcas, Dolphins to Get New Federal Protections

By on January 29, 2016 with 17 Comments
Breaking news: Captive Orcas, Dolphins to Get New Federal Protections

Today, after a two-decade wait, we celebrate the release of a proposed federal rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to improve standards for the handling, care, and housing of captive marine mammals, mainly at aquariums and marine parks. It is an important animal welfare step, at a time when the nation is questioning . . . 

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Furry Celebs in the Spotlight for National Campaign to Promote Pet Adoption

By on January 29, 2016 with 2 Comments
Furry Celebs in the Spotlight for National Campaign to Promote Pet Adoption

You’ve probably gotten at least a glimpse of these Internet celebrities in viral videos or social media feeds: Toast Meets World, a toothless King Charles puppy mill rescue who has 342,000 Instagram followers; Bento the Keyboard Cat, who plays that electronic instrument not quite as well as Elton John; and Hamilton Pug, who went from . . . 

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‘Judge Me by the Enemies I Have Made’

By on January 28, 2016 with 7 Comments
‘Judge Me by the Enemies I Have Made’

More than anything, The HSUS is about one purpose: making tangible progress to stop animal cruelty. Our determined work for all animals wins us millions of supporters. But it also stirs the passions and fears of special interests and individuals who make a profit or get a thrill from hurting animals. Cockfighters and dogfighters, hunters of . . . 

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Breaking News: Bob Evans, a Family Dining Fixture, Joins the Cage-Free Movement

By on January 27, 2016 with 0 Comments
Breaking News: Bob Evans, a Family Dining Fixture, Joins the Cage-Free Movement

Today, Bob Evans—one of the country’s largest family dining chains based in Ohio, with more than 500 restaurants in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and Southeast — announced it will go 100 percent cage-free for the more than 100 million eggs it uses annually. You’ve lately heard, through this blog, about a cascade of new policies from . . . 

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Breaking News: Feds Adopt the Right Policy for Right Whales

By on January 26, 2016 with 4 Comments
Breaking News: Feds Adopt the Right Policy for Right Whales

Right whales – more endangered than pandas, Siberian tigers, or black rhinos – received a lifeline today from the federal government when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it will take action to expand the boundaries of their existing critical habitat in the North Atlantic by approximately 39,500 square miles. The HSUS and its . . . 

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A Blizzard of Activity to Help Animals

By on January 25, 2016 with 3 Comments
A Blizzard of Activity to Help Animals

The unusually fierce snowstorm that buried the mid-Atlantic states and disrupted transportation and work for so many people also wreaked havoc for animals. Wild animals are built to withstand bouts of severe weather, but they struggle to survive when temperatures and precipitation levels get extreme (there are news reports this month that more than a thousand . . . 

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