2014-05-07 / News

Cockfighting Penalties Lax In Ohio

Ohio is the only state in the Great Lakes region where cockfighting is a misdemeanor offense.

Fulton County sheriff deputies charged 52 men with animal fighting/spectator, aider and abettor after deputies discovered an alleged cockfighting operation at a property in the 9000 block of Co. Rd. N in Royalton Township, north of Delta.

The charge, contained in the Ohio Revised Code section 959.17, is considered a fourth degree misdemeanor offense.

The maximum penalty for a fourth-degree misdemeanor is 30 days in jail, and a maximum fine of $250.

Vicki Deisner, Midwest legislative director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), said in Michigan, Illinois, and Pennsylvania, staging, or even attending a cockfighting event is felony-level crime with much stiffer penalties.

In Indiana, staging a cockfight is a felony crime, but attending an event is a misdemeanor.

In all, cockfighting is considered a felony in 41 states.

Deisner said there is a movement in Kentucky to legalize cockfighting.

Five western states increased their cockfighting penalties to felonies last year. The charge remains a misdemeanor in Utah, Deisner said.

Ohio Efforts

Since 2011, Deisner said there have been efforts on behalf of the animal welfare community to making cockfighting a felony-level offense in Ohio.

Currently before the Ohio legislature is an amendment to House Bill 490, the midbiennium budget review.

The amendment would increase the penalty for cockfighting.

“We are encouraging legislators to support the amendment to House Bill 490,” she said.

Deisner said the Ohio Farm Bureau and the Ohio Poultry Association support efforts to stiffen cockfighting penalties.

Keeping cockfighting a misdemeanor offense makes Ohio a magnet for the events, she said.

Those who stage cockfights, those who enter birds, and those who wager on the outcomes of the fights can win large amounts of money.

That makes the $250 fine “a cost of doing business,” Deisner said.

Federal

Andrew Binovi, federal legislative manager for the ASPCA, said the recent federal farm bill, which was signed into law, includes new cockfighting provisions.

The new law makes it a federal offense to attend or bring a child to a cockfight.

Those who attend cockfights can be sentenced to as much as a year in federal prison. Someone who “causes a child to attend” a cockfight can be imprisoned for up to three years.

Fines can be imposed for both offenses, Binovi said.

If attending cockfighting is a violation of federal law, doesn’t that render the effort in Ohio to make the offenses felonies on the state level moot?

“Not necessarily,” Binovi said.

Federal law enforcement officers usually only get involved when interstate commerce, or crossing of state lines, is involved.

If state or local authorities are involved, they usually follow state laws, he said.

“So it’s important to have strong penalties at the state and federal level,” he said.

“We’re working at the state and federal levels to achieve the strongest penalties possible for animal fighting.”

Fights

Deisner said in cockfights, metal blades, or ice-pick type devices known as “gaffs,” are strapped to the birds’ legs, making their attacks much more lethal.

Fighting cocks are then put into a pit, where they fight to the death.

“An injured or exhausted animal can’t escape,” she said.

Cockfighting is also associated with other crimes.

Since gamblers wager on cockfights, there are often large amounts of cash around. As a result, gamblers will bring illegal firearms and other weapons to protect their money.

People will often bring children to cockfights, exposing them to the violence.

Deisner said the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, or DEA, has documented connections between cockfighting and the sale or distribution of illegal drugs.

“It’s really sad these birds suffer such a brutal death for the entertainment of illegal gamblers,” she said.

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