Washington D.C. — The U.S. House Committee on Appropriations has signaled it wants to see the Department of Justice (DOJ) step up its work to prosecute animal cruelty crimes, including animal fighting – a bloody and horrific practice that pits animals against each other in a fight to the death for gambling and entertainment.
The Committee recently adopted language to urge the Department of Justice to enhance enforcement of the federal animal welfare statutes. It also required DOJ to report back to Congress about how DOJ plans to enforce these laws moving forward. Congress has the authority, through its powers of oversight and funding, to instruct agencies to ramp up enforcement. Animal Wellness Action is also seeking $2 million in the Fiscal Year 2020 Commerce, Justice, and Science spending bill for personnel at DOJ dedicated to enforcing our federal anti-cruelty laws.
Despite being the most widely and severely criminalized form of animal cruelty, animal fighting remains a widespread criminal enterprise in the U.S. Animals are often drugged to heighten their aggression and forced to keep fighting even after they’ve suffered grievous injuries such as broken bones, deep gashes, punctured lungs, and pierced eyes. In cockfighting, birds have metal weapons, such as knives, attached to their legs where they slash each other to pieces and suffer slow, painful deaths. Animals used for fighting are at risk even when they are not in a fighting pit. They are typically chained outside, exposed to the weather, and denied veterinary care and basic humane treatment. Those who lose a match are subject to extreme cruelty, such as electrocution, beatings, or even killed.
Animal fighting activities also typically go hand-in-hand with drug trafficking, gang violence, and other human violence.
“Enforcing laws against animal cruelty is as crucial as enacting them in the first place,” said Holly Gann, director of federal affairs at Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation. “Congress, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Agriculture must make it a top priority to enforce animal welfare laws, including the animal fighting statutes, to end this criminal activity once and for all.”
“The American people overwhelmingly support the enforcement of animal cruelty laws and lip service from bureaucrats and politicians will no longer suffice,” said Josh Marquis, director of legal affairs and enforcement at Animal Wellness Action. “In order for such laws to be meaningful, there must be stringent and aggressive enforcement of the law.”
The Appropriations Committee’s actions are consistent with the wishes of Congress, which has upgraded the federal animal fighting law five times in the last two decades, including in the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018. That bill included an amendment to clarify that the federal anti-animal fighting laws apply to every part of the United States, including the U.S. Territories. That provision takes effect at the end of this year.
Federal law makes it a crime to sponsor or exhibit an animal in a fighting venture; to buy, sell, deliver, possess, train or transport an animal for fighting purposes; to use the U.S. mail to promote fighting; to bring a minor to an animal fight; or to be a spectator at an animal fighting spectacle.