How Has Ohio Become a Cockfighting Capital?

By on February 4, 2016 with 10 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

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.

Animal Rescue and Care, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Jacob Dijkstra, MD says:

    Around 2010 there was a ballot initiative in Ohio sponsored by the HSUS against factory farming. Around 500.000 signatures were collected. Many of us were very upset that, instead of taking the initiative to the ballot box, Wayne Pacelle, without any consultation with the many volunteers who collected the enormous amount of signatures, decided to make an agreement without any teeth with the Farm Bureau and Governor Strickland (who was on his way out as governor) instead of taking the initiative to the elections. I think that I recall that anti-cockfighting measures were part of the deal. Now we are informed that Ohio is one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to cockfighting and Wayne Pacelle is advocating another ballot campaign. Most of us know that one cannot trust the Ohio Farm Bureau. It is unlikely that the same amount of volunteers will participate in this ballot initiative if it is sponsored again by the HSUS.

    • Corey Roscoe says:

      HSUS immensely valued the participation of volunteers, who supplemented the paid signature gathering effort. That petition drive put us in a position to secure a remarkable eight-point agreement that resulted in a tremendous advance for animal welfare in Ohio. Six of the eight elements of the eight-point agreement have been implemented, including bans on tail docking of dairy cows, a phase out of gestation crates, and a ban on private ownership of dangerous exotics. These reforms went well beyond the terms of the ballot measure, which related only to farm animals. There was no guarantee we would win on the November 2010 ballot. We were facing nearing unanimous political opposition to the ballot initiative campaign, and huge spending by agribusiness interests. It also turned out to be a wave election, with a very big Tea Party turn-out. HSUS played the issue tactically to leverage tangible gains on a wide range of subjects. The reason that we have such broad support among agricultural groups for the anti-cockfighting legislation, including from the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Poultry Association, stems from the 2010 agreement. It puts us in a position to win and to neutralize opposition from the farm groups, which still hold great sway in the state.

      Corey Roscoe
      Ohio state director, HSUS

  2. elaine Hutzelman says:

    Wayne needs to work with the local activists before taking on a project by himself.Ohio doesn’t need another Jack Hanna.

  3. Cheechako says:

    Ohio is aligned with Alabama and Mississippi as having the most flaccid anti-cockfighting laws. In Ohio, the maximum fine for cockfighting is $250??? This is jest ladies and gentleman!!! – The making it a felony under certain circumstances is but a shade of the hidden intentions only to continuing cockfighting site, (illegal gambling); using devices like razor-sharp knives attached to roosters’ legs to increase bloodletting, or bringing a child to the fight which most likely is clandestinely happening ~ pastready!!! The forum is loong… However, I think, either you must have a undercover pal to find out where (who (m)) inside the system is the rotten apple to be pull off from the root., otherwise this is an endless war and eventually if not now we’ll loose all our wildlife nature with zero legacy t ur generation.

  4. Steve Zuehl says:

    I read most of the comments about this story. I can tell most people do not have a clue what it takes to raise and fight game rosters.

  5. Opie Grifith says:

    This reminds me of the “good intentions” to “civilize” and christianize the “red savages” that lived in what is now Ohio and really most of the US, for it is this same mindset that drives most of the Humane Society members to act. What will be next? Close down KFCs nationwide? Popeyes? Do away with hunting and fishing? Protect roaches and vermin? Remember good intentions don’t always yield good results. We use to be a country of live and let live, now not so much so…. I’ve traveled through most of Ohio and I’ve yet to see a neon sign advertising cockfighting. So I say live and let live for the other alternative is to make extinct the breeds of fowl that fight to the death very much the same way Native Americans fought to the death for their territory. Again good intentions do not yield good results.

    • Daniel Thompson says:

      Listen to your own words : Let live ” Let the animals live ‘ their lives are their lives – NOT YOURS !

  6. Cole says:

    I have raised and fought gamefowl for 35years. And have meet some of the best people in the world. And some not so good. But our past president’s like Washington, Lincoln, were cockfighters. It should be a free country. To do. What one wants to do.

  7. mike says:

    you know cock fighting been around for ages now they say it’s cruel to let 2 roosters fight to the death but which one is worse watching 2 dogs fight and if a dog runs you take the dog in the back and put a bullet in the head or 2 roosters fight till one wins if the law makers want to make things harder to do is watching 2 dogs fight i’m a dog lover and i hate to hear a dog yell when it get’s bit hard till it no longer moves but if someone raises a pitbull but don’t train them to fight there like any other dog only time they would snap at a dog is if another dog lunges at the pitbull but if you want to raise fighting chickens to sell to make a profit i don’t see anything wrong with that.

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