Our National Campaign to End Cockfighting Gathers More Momentum

Guam-Based Federal Judge Rules the United States Has Properly Exercised Its Authority to Ban Animal Fighting

Yesterday, a United States District Court judge on Guam swatted away a legal challenge to the national prohibition on dogfighting and cockfighting, just 10 months after this new provision became the law of the land. That amendment to the 2018 Farm bill was designed to apply the pre-existing prohibitions against animal fighting to the U.S. territories, including Guam and Puerto Rico where cockfighting has been openly conducted for decades and where enthusiasts falsely claimed it’s an industry generating countless jobs.

A Guam resident challenged the federal law, arguing that the United States had overstepped its authority in imposing a national ban on cockfighting. U.S. District Court Judge Frances M. Tydingco-Gatewood — after considering the pleadings in the case, including an amicus brief filed by Animal Wellness Action, the Center for a Humane Economy (CHE) and Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF) — rejected the plaintiff’s claim. Her opinion relied in good measure on a ruling last year made in a similar case also brought by cockfighting enthusiasts against the United States. In late October last year, U.S. District Court Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí rejected claims by Club Gallístico and other cockfighting clubs in Puerto Rico, declaring that “[n]either the Commonwealth’s political statutes, nor the Territorial Clause, impede the United States Government from enacting laws that apply to all citizens of this Nation alike, whether as a state or territory.”

AWA and AWF drove passage of the 2019 national ban on animal fighting and launched enforcement campaigns on Guam and on Puerto Rico to stop animal fighting there, as the last two places in the U.S. where the activities had been openly and brazenly conducted. Guam in particular has been a destination for cockfighting birds raised in the states and even other nations. Through public records requests to the Guam Department of Agriculture, AWF and AWA obtained nearly 2,500 pages of avian shipping records dated between 2017 and the end of 2019, revealing more than 500 illegal shipments by 71 individuals from more than a dozen states. American cockfighters shipped 8800 fighting birds to Guam, presumably for fights on the island.

The Guam animal-import data led us to the cockfighting mafia in the states. Cockfighting interests in Alabama, California, Hawaii, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, we learned through detailed investigations, were shipping fighting birds to Guam and so many other far-flung destinations. One shipper, Jerry Adkins of Slick Lizard Farms in Nauvoo, Ala., recently told a Filipino television broadcaster that he sells 6,000 birds a year to Mexico alone. With some birds selling for as much as $2,000 each, that could generate millions in gross sales for Mr. Adkins and the other members of his family involved in trafficking animals.

Because Oklahoma cockfighters were collectively the top shippers to Guam, we took an especially deep dive there, and based on our investigations, dubbed the Sooner State as “the cockfighting capital of the U.S.” Yesterday, we announced a campaign called Cruelty Isn’t OK, with the aim of enforcing state and federal laws against cockfighting and other forms of cruelty that have persisted there.

But we know our enforcement work is far from complete in the territories. Since our campaign started, the territory’s major fighting arena has been closed for business, and the Governor did not grant approval for cockfighting activities at 17 village festivals. A poll authorized by AWA and AWF and conducted by a respected Guam-based polling firm revealed that more than 60 percent of Guamanians support the federal law to ban cockfighting, while only 21 percent oppose it, with the remainder undecided. Still though, politicians there continue to send confusing signals to the cockfighters about their commitment to adherence to the federal law.

And in Puerto Rico, the law is being openly defied by the lame-duck governor and other politicians.
To that end, we are stepping up our federal enforcement campaign. And that includes national legislation to make anti-cruelty enforcement a higher national priority. Two weeks ago, Senators Mike Braun, R-Ind., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., John Kennedy, R-La., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., introduced legislation to create an Animal Cruelty Crimes section at the U.S. Department of Justice. Prior to that, an equally diverse group of House members — Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Buddy Carter, R-Ga. — introduced an identical version of the Animal Cruelty Enforcement (ACE) Act.

We have something close to a national consensus on the issue of animal fighting. The Congress has passed a law outlawing animal fighting in every corner and outpost in the United States. The courts have affirmed that law time and again. Whenever citizens have voted on ballot initiatives on the subject of cockfighting – as they’ve done in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma – they’ve been resolute in casting votes to ban the practice.

It’s past time for cockfighters to lay down the knives and other weapons they strap on the birds. If they choose to violate the law, cockfighting will face increasing jeopardy, facing stern prison sentences and seizure of their assets. Those risks far outweigh the benefits of watching animals hack each other apart.

Please sign our petition to halt the trafficking of tens of thousands of fighting animals