End Cockfighting Press Release

Animal Wellness Action asks Oklahoma Media to Take Note of Cockfighting Arrests in their State

There could be a hopeful turnaround after years of neglect

Washington, D.C. — Today Animal Wellness Action asked media to take note of recent arrests of cockfighters in Oklahoma, the “cockfighting capital of the United States,” as a hopeful turn-around after years of neglect of the state’s most important anti-cruelty law.

Three men were arrested Saturday in rural Marshall County Oklahoma for illegal cockfighting and charged with possessing birds for fighting. Individuals are also charged with having and operating a cockfighting pit west of Madill. If convicted, they all face up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $25,000.

Just two weeks ago, the DA in Oklahoma County filed 59 felony counts for cockfighting-related activities, notably against a couple for being in possession of “a large number of roosters.” Investigators with the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division had earlier confiscated 93 game-type birds, according to affidavits filed in the case.

In a statement for the media, Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, said:

“Oklahomans want cockfighting to be illegal, they want felony-level penalties for this cruelty, and they want the law actively enforced in every county.” Pacelle added:  “To dethrone Oklahoma of the title of the ‘cockfighting capital of the United States,’ we need is active more enforcement of the state’s strong anti-cruelty law. We applaud law enforcement in Marshall and Oklahoma counties for making arrests in Marshall and Oklahoma counties and we hope their counterparts in other counties follow suit and make arrests of cockfighters hiding in plain sight.”

“Oklahoma’s anti-cockfighting law makes possession of fighting animals a felony, and the arrests invoke that critically important prohibition,” said Steve Hindi, president of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, which has conducted undercover investigations of cockfights in southeast Oklahoma.  “We applaud the enforcement agencies for bringing these charges.”

According to a survey by the District Attorneys of Oklahoma, there have been an average of 1.7 enforcement actions against cockfighters per year, since Oklahoma voters made cockfighting illegal 21 years ago. That is the case even though Animal Wellness Action and Showing Animals Kindness and Respect have provided a roadmap for major cockfighters operating throughout the state, though certainly concentrated in southeast Oklahoma.

These arrests and others before them in Oklahoma come after a heavily funded effort by cockfighters to try unwind the state law making cockfighting and associated activities a felony. The cockfighters’ effort, under the brand of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, met with failure after the Senate chose to ignore all of the pro-cockfighting bills. In fact, only HB 2530, by Rep. J.J. Humphrey, got only a procedural vote, after the House stripped it of its title, to keep it alive and send it to the Senate where it died.

A similar bill, SB 1006, by Sen. Lonnie Paxton, R-Tuttle, also died weeks earlier in the Senate.  A third bill, HB 1792, a broad rewrite of felonies on a wide range of subjects, including a reduction in fines for cockfighting, dogfighting, and other forms of malicious cruelty, also died.

No state legislature has ever weakened anti-cockfighting penalties once lawmakers and voters enacted a statewide policy, and Oklahoma has never given counties an escape hatch to opt out of a state law once adopted by the people or the legislature.

Federal bill introduced to end cockfighting and dogfighting

Driven by concerns for the barbarism of animal fighting, mass shootings and other crimes comingled with staged animal combat, as well as disease threats to poultry and other birds posed by illegal transports of fighting roosters, U.S. Senators and members of Congress have recently introduced legislation to strengthen the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting.

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation is entitled the Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Trafficking (FIGHT) Act, HR 2742 and S 1529.

The FIGHT Act, amending Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, would enhance enforcement opportunities by banning simulcasting of and gambling on animal fighting ventures; halting the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) through the U.S. mail (shipping dogs by mail is already illegal); creating a private right of action against illegal animal fighters; and allowing for forfeiture of property assets used in animal fighting crimes.

Under Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. 2156, it is a crime to:

  • Knowingly sponsor or exhibit in an animal fighting venture;
  • Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
  • Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
  • Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
  • Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.

You can learn about the legislative history of animal fighting here. A fact sheet on the FIGHT Act is available here. Our new research paper on cockfighting and avian influenza and other infectious diseases can be found here. And you can read a summary here of the federal courts’ upholding all provisions of the animal-fighting law as constitutional.

Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting laws and regulations at federal, state and local levels that forbid cruelty to all animals. The group also works to enforce existing anti-cruelty and wildlife protection laws. Animal Wellness Action believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @AWAction_News

Center for a Humane Economy is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(3) whose mission is to help animals by helping forge a more humane economic order. The first organization of its kind in the animal protection movement, the Center encourages businesses to honor their social responsibilities in a culture where consumers, investors, and other key stakeholders abhor cruelty and the degradation of the environment and embrace innovation as a means of eliminating both. The Center believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @TheHumaneCenter