By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
We were pleased with today’s news that U.S. Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert of the U.S. Virgin Islands has reminded Virgin Islanders that animal fighting is now illegal there under federal law. Shappert’s announcement reflected not simply her strong grasp of the connections between animal fighting and other criminal activities, including violent crime and firearms offenses, but her deeper understanding that the illegal transport of fighting birds poses a particularly high risk at present because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund have played a key role in the passage of five upgrades to federal animal fighting laws since the early 2000s, most recently the incorporation of the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement Act into the Farm Bill enacted in late 2018.
That critical legislation clarified that the existing federal ban on animal fighting applies to all U.S. territories, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam. In October 2019, a federal district court for the District of Puerto Rico ruled that the U.S. Congress was within its power to clarify its position that the prohibition applies equally to all U.S. territories. Today, Ms. Shappert made the same point, in response to reports of continued cockfighting matches in the Virgin Islands.
We’ve consistently worked with congressional allies to obtain annual appropriations provisions in support of proper enforcement of the animal fighting law. HSUS staff members provided essential background information on our work to end animal fighting and the legislative history of our campaign against it to Ms. Shappert’s office. We’re also making plans to conduct law enforcement training events in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Guam in 2021, at the invitation of relevant agencies and partners.
The campaign to pass serious animal fighting laws throughout the United States and its territories has been a hard one, and one we have waged for many years. However, we never imagined that the simple passage of legislation would be enough. We’re looking forward to making the public case that animal fighting is wrong and that there is no place for it in modern life. With the needed laws in place, we can better make that case.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.