U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, PA-10, along with U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, OH-13, have introduced legislation that makes it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and imposes additional penalties for taking minors to such events.
HR 2492, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2011, complements state laws that address spectators at animal fights and takes it a step further by penalizing adults who expose children to these heinous acts.
Organized animal fighting is a federal crime and illegal in all 50 states but the issue of spectators at these barbaric events is not addressed on the federal level. It is illegal in 49 states to be a knowing spectator at animal fights; 28 states impose felony-level penalties on spectators.
"As a former state and federal prosecutor, I've seen first-hand the criminal culture that surrounds animal fighting events and the damaging influence this environment has on our children," Marino said. "We try to protect our kids from criminal violence and yet there are no consequences for those adults who take impressionable children to animal fights where they can witness these heinous acts in person."
The Marino-Sutton bill is a bipartisan effort (Marino is a Republican, Sutton a Democrat) that imposes federal misdemeanor penalties for knowing attendance and felony penalties for causing a minor to attend. The law would not apply to individuals who are not aware that they are attending an animal fight or to situations where two animals fight without provocation by animal fighting organizers.
"I introduced this legislation to make sure that law enforcement has all of the tools necessary to deprive the organizers and profiteers of these horrific events from receiving the support they need to continue this activity," Marino said.
Because organized animal fighting is illegal, the activity is highly clandestine. Spectators at animal fights don't accidentally happen upon a fight -- they seek out the criminal activity at secret locations, often need passwords to enter, and pay hefty admission fees for the opportunity to watch and gamble on the fights -- facts that a prosecutor might use as evidence to prove that a defendant is knowingly in attendance.
When active animal fighting operations are raided, it is a common practice for the organizers, promoters, and animal owners to blend into the crowd in order to shield themselves from law enforcement. As a result, many states have enacted legislation to make attendance at an animal fight a criminal offense, a critical step to discourage individuals from facilitating animal fìghts by their attendance, and to ensure that the organizers of animal fìghts cannot easily escape into a crowd when law-enforcement officials arrive.
Penalties will be up to one year in prison and fìnes for attending a fight, and a penalty of up to three years in jail and fìnes for bringing or causing a minor to attend.
The bill has the support of The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund.
"Spectators are participants and accomplices who enable the crime of animal fighting, provide a large share of the funding for the criminal enterprise through their admission fees and gambling wagers, and help conceal handlers and organizers who try to blend into the crowd when a bust occurs," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "We are grateful to Representatives Marino and Sutton for introducing this legislation. We call on Congress to swiftly pass it and give law enforcement the tools they need to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting."
* Spectators pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise. The fights would not occur without the crowd betting on the outcome and enjoying the bloodletting.
* Spectators provide cover for animal fighters, who weave into crowds to evade prosecution at the first sign of a police raid.
* Often spectators are themselves participants in animal fights, waiting their turn at a typical organized animal fight, with several rounds during an event or derby. When police raid an animal fight, it is extremely difficult to differentiate between spectators and participants who were going to fight their dog or bird in the next match.
* Cockfighting has been linked to the death of a number of people in Asia from bird flu and to an outbreak of a poultry disease that cost U.S. taxpayers more than $200 million to contain.
* Animal fighting is also closely associated with other criminal activities such as gangs, narcotics, illegal weapons possession, public corruption and various violent crimes. A three-year study by the Chicago Police Department found that 70 percent of animal offenders had also been arrested for other felonies, including domestic and aggravated battery, illegal drug trafficking and sex crimes.