I am used to the nattering and claptrap of people who try to justify or excuse their acts of animal cruelty. They may dress it up as some kind of tradition, a personal right or freedom, a sort of social norm, or even an economic necessity. In addition to offering up their particular set of excuses, these folks, almost to a one, inevitably deny that animals have feelings or suffer.
So much of that sociopathy and off-the-cuff legal theorizing was on display in a TV segment on cockfighting in America that I caught last night on “HBO Real Sports.” The piece focused principally on cockfighters and cockfighting in Oklahoma and in Puerto Rico. Cockfighting is illegal in both jurisdictions under federal law, and Oklahoma, like all other states, has its own anti-cockfighting statute. HBO gave viewers a window into cockfighting exhibitionists, who see no problem in putting their vice and blood-loving instincts on display for the world to see. Host Bryant Gumbel was as dumbfounded as any civilized viewer would be that these people were so brazen about violating the law, and he wondered aloud how this is occurring in our day.
While the Puerto Rican cockfighters may be unfamiliar with the federal law and believe what they do in their arenas is legally permissible, there’s no such excuse for the Oklahoma cockfighters who appeared on the show. I know a good bit about one of the cockfighters featured, and he was an outspoken opponent of a ballot measure that voters in the state approved in 2002 to outlaw the practice in Oklahoma. He’s traveled the country lecturing to cockfighters and other animal users that they can disregard anti-cruelty laws and live by some sort of non-existent higher law of their own.
He and others made it pretty clear that they are unapologetic about continuing to fight birds and participating in derbies. HBO showed one of the men handling fighting birds on his property, while others bragged about the winnings they’ve claimed at derbies where they’ve done well. One cockfighter said he entered 10 birds in a derby and his birds won nine of their fights, resulting in winnings of $95,000 for him.
In the last 15 years, we’ve worked with allies in Congress to upgrade the federal law four times. It’s now a felony to fight birds, to transport birds for fighting purposes, to possess birds for fighting, to sell cockfighting implements, and to bring a minor to a cockfight. It’s a federal misdemeanor to be a spectator at an animal fight.
Last month, a Virginia man was sentenced to two years in prison for taking a minor to a cockfight in Kentucky. This is a direct result of the passage of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which was strongly backed by The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and included as a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill. Law enforcement officials have arrested dozens under the federal anti-animal fighting statutes.
“Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states and anyone who participates in this crime, or breeds birds for the purpose of fighting, should be charged and prosecuted,” says John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “The NSA recognizes the gravity of this crime because cockfighting is cruel and a criminal underground enterprise associated with illegal drug dealing and gambling. It not only endangers animals but our communities.”
For all of the political divisions we have, the vast majority of Americans possess a common set of values that call on us to adhere to the rule of law. We have perhaps a million men and women who serve in law enforcement at different levels of government, we have tens of thousands of prosecutors who bring charges against people alleged to have violated the law, and we have thousands of judges who adjudicate legal proceedings and issue penalties to the violators. No person is above the law, including people who trot out garbage-can theories on why it’s their right to do as they please.
We’ve never treated the law as an endpoint in our work. Once a law is on the books, it must be enforced, and that’s where we rely on local, state, and federal law enforcement officials to act on anti-cruelty laws. Every year, we work to train thousands of dedicated people in law enforcement to investigate and prosecute crimes of animal cruelty. We help the USDA obtain necessary resources from Congress to oversee the federal animal fighting law. And we do our own investigations to bring information to light that law enforcement officials can act upon.
The brazen and brash preening of the cockfighters on the HBO show cannot be tolerated. By their own admission, they think they have special rights. In reality, they are criminals in the waiting. You can be sure that we won’t rest until justice is done and states and other jurisdictions involved take action to stop these malicious acts of cruelty and disregard for the rule of law.
Traveling home to their districts, members of Congress are hearing from riled-up constituents like never before – and right on the heels of a tremendously contentious election. On Capitol Hill, telephone lines are being overwhelmed repeatedly by the fresh concerns of Americans roused to action. In cities across the country, citizens are organizing, vowing to . . .
Congressional effort to allow killing hibernating bears and wolf pups in their dens moves to U.S. Senate
Last week’s vote on H.J. Res. 69 was one of the most disturbing actions by Congress I’ve witnessed during more than a quarter century of political advocacy for animals. By a 225 to 195 vote, a narrow majority of the U.S. House voted to rescind a rule from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) . . .
We launched our Humane Puerto Rico program two years ago because animals are in crisis in this long-neglected, populous part of the United States. One fact, among all others, stared us in the face: some shelters in the Commonwealth had a euthanasia rate of 95 percent. There was a broad recognition that if an animal . . .
Nobody much likes what the U.S. Department of Agriculture did two weeks ago in purging thousands of inspection reports for the animal facilities and horse shows under its authority, and pledging not to post new reports on a go-forward basis. USA Today panned the action hard yesterday. Today, the Des Moines Register said it was . . .
U.S. House sanctions killing hibernating bears, wolf pups in their dens on federal refuges in Alaska
What the U.S. House of Representatives did today – actually a very narrow majority of the House – was shameful. Cruel. Callous. Venal. The vote in favor of H.J. Resolution 69, authored by Alaska’s Rep. Don Young, was 225 to 193. Those 225 members voted to overturn a federal rule – years in the works, . . .
Urgent alert: Your help needed to stop Congress from sanctioning cruelty to wolves and grizzly bears on refuges in Alaska
Today, The HSUS launched a television advertising campaign to expose a hard-to-stomach and hard-to-comprehend effort in Congress to overturn a federal ban on the most inhumane and unsporting practices seen in the recent history of American wildlife management. This gambit involves the sanctioning, among other deplorable practices, of private citizens going into dens and killing . . .
Late last week, a bipartisan group of 154 members of the U.S. House of Representatives wrote to President Trump, asking him to give final approval to a U.S. Department of Agriculture rule that got sidetracked during the last days of the Obama administration. The rule was designed to fix serious deficiencies in the USDA’s existing . . .
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s jarring removal of thousands of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection reports from its website has caused anger among animal advocates, concern among many in the regulated industries who want to be able to show their clean records, and condemnation from opinion-leaders, lawmakers, and a wide range of . . .
One of the most despicable acts against animals in contemporary times is the aerial gunning of wildlife – chasing down these animals in aircraft and then strafing them with bullets, mainly as a way to wipe out local populations and artificially boost populations of moose and caribou for hunters to shoot at a later time. . . .