There’s no one in America like Oprah Winfrey, and her show to air tomorrow on puppy mills is sure to generate a torrent of interest. I feel privileged to appear on the show, and it’s a rare opportunity to speak to so many millions of Americans about this important issue. Our entire team at The HSUS will work hard to harness the energy that her show generates. Our goal is to turn viewer anger and anguish over cruelty to dogs into action and reform.
But animal abuse is stubborn, and our battles to combat its many forms are rarely won with ease. That’s certainly the case with puppy mills—an abusive industry that’s persisted for decades despite relatively high levels of public awareness about the problem. And it’s even the case with animal fighting. Dogfighting and cockfighting are at the top of my list of repugnant and morally indefensible forms of animal cruelty. You would think reform in this arena would be a slam dunk, but it’s not.
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It took us years to pass strong federal legislation to crack down on animal fighting, and we are still defending it—the cockfighters just filed their third lawsuit against the federal law. And it was just last year that we finally banned cockfighting in Louisiana and New Mexico.
This year, we’ve had yet another surge in lawmaking on animal fighting, driven by our major focus on the issue and by the awareness generated by the Michael Vick case. We passed felony-level penalties for dogfighting this year in the two states that had been misdemeanor hold-outs—Idaho and Wyoming. And we’ve passed upgrades of animal fighting laws in Oregon and Virginia, and bills to fortify laws in Georgia and Maryland are expected to be signed into law very soon.
But there are another 20 states with legislation to strengthen the law, and we are in slugfests in many of these states, including Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio, South Carolina, and West Virginia. In Tennessee—where just two years ago, federal law enforcement authorities closed down two of the largest cockfighting pits in the nation, and uncovered public corruption of local law enforcement officials, massive illegal gambling, chop shops, and prostitution rings associated with the animal fighting enterprises—a bill to make cockfighting a felony barely cleared a key subcommittee this week. Here you had massive criminal enterprises in eastern Tennessee intertwined with animal fighting, yet some lawmakers continue to be apologists for this reprehensible conduct.
In California, there are two bills to upgrade the dogfighting law, but we are running into knee-jerk opposition from lawmakers who do not want to make being a spectator at a dogfight a felony, even though every state surrounding California has such policies. Animal fighting is rampant there, and because the state’s law’s are so weak compared to its neighbors, it’s becoming a regional hub for animal fighting.
The only way we will win these fights is if our supporters get active and demand change. Don’t leave it up to me and the other HSUS staff to get the job done. We’ll work around the clock, and so will many of our legislative allies. But we need you to contact your state lawmakers and to activate other citizens. Only when the grassroots pressure is unyielding and intense will we get the reforms that the animals so desperately need.