Update Dec., 2008: This bill, H.B. 415, did not pass the Senate before the end of the legislative session. But H.B. 71 (scroll down) was signed into law!
Update May, 2008: The Ohio House Criminal Justice Committee heard compelling testimony in support of the Animal Fighting bill, H.B. 415. The committee passed the bill, and just days later the full House of Representatives voted to pass the bill.
Annette M. Fisher, Executive Director of Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary described how last year the Lorain County, Ohio’s sheriff’s department seized 44 roosters and several hens in a cockfighting raid.
Happy Trails is helping care for the animals pending trial.
Fisher testified, "The condition of the animals sickened me….Their once beautiful combs had been ruthlessly cut off their head, and their chests, stomachs and legs had been painfully shaved. ….They also had their back spurs (toes) cut off, again nothing to shield them from the pain of the amputation. When fighting, imagine these spurs being replaced with metal bands with spikes attached to them, a sick and twisted way of making the fight even more gruesome.
"Several of them held their bloody eyes and heads down onto their chest because their pain was too much to bear to stand upright. Razor blades are usually attached to the ends of the rooster’s wings- again, the result of animal fighters need to see blood spilled and the need to justify it by calling it entertainment or a "sport’.
"In this case, at the crime scene itself, the officer’s found chicken carcasses, animal steroids, hypodermic needles, pills used to control animals from bleeding and about nine spurs or talons.
"Three portable chicken carriers were completely covered with blood. One chicken was covered in blood and unable to open its right eye and another, also blood stained, could not open its swollen, bloodied left eye. Many of the birds that we picked up were already blind in at least one of their eyes – a typical injury from fighting.
"Imagine that you had the misfortune to be born as one of these animals. The whirr of a razor gets louder and louder until it scrapes against your skin pulling your feathers out by their quills.
"The noise and the pain doesn’t stop until most of your undercarriage is exposed. You would be no stranger to pain, since earlier in your life, you were forcibly held down by several large, rough hands, keeping your head from moving with a hand tight around your throat, as your handsome comb which sat proudly atop your head, was hacked off. Your screams went un-acknowledged.
"Some blood stop was poured on your head, and the medication leaked down into your eyes, causing them to burn also.
"Now, ready for the fight, a large snippers is waived in the air, and people laugh and joke as someone once again holds you very tightly, and with a large chopping sound, your first toe is painfully cut off. You try to crow, but you can’t move – you are being held very tightly. Engulfed in pain, you see the cutters again raise up in the air. Your second talon is hacked off, as people continue to laugh and joke and talk about the upcoming fight. You try to breath in between tidal waves of pain. Now wishing you were dead, you will soon get your wish, as you are dressed in spikes and razor blades, and thrown into an arena where you need to either kill or be killed.
"And the people that call themselves human beings, torture these sad creatures for fun, for entertainment, for profit, and for sport."
Fisher said, "The 44 chickens from Lorain County have been handled daily by our all-volunteer staff. At first they were terrified of people. Many of them quickly learned that when we now removed them from their cages they would be held, comforted, and not put in a situation where they had to fight for their life.
"They were all extremely thin, and we were able to feel bones quite easily. Now, nine months later, many are so tame that anyone can pick them up and hold them, pet them and work around them with ease. They all gained a good deal of weight, and they feel substantially heavier than when they arrived. They are now able to enjoy a life free from pain and terror…..
"[D]o we want to be known here in Ohio for promoting the blood sport of animals fighting to their death? Cockfighting raids normally result in the sale of illegal drugs, illegal possession of fire arms, underage consumption of alcohol and piles of dead and dying animals. I have seen the results of the suffering animals first hand, and the crucial link between animal abuse, domestic violence and criminal behavior, has to be acknowledged. …
"Animal fighting needs to be a felony crime, and taken as seriously as the cockfighters themselves take their ‘sport”.
Jed O. Mignano, a humane officer with the Cleveland Animal Protective League testified it is "routine" for investigators to encounter pit bulls and roosters that have been "brutalized" by animal fighting.
Officer Mignano explained, "These animals often have broken limbs, massive open wounds, scars and avulsed skin or appendages. We have frequently responded to complaints of dogfighting or cockfighting only to arrive and find dead or starving animals inside homes and blood smeared on walls where animals had been confined and forced to fight.
"Tragically, the victims aren’t only the animals, but also the children who are allowed, and even encouraged to participate by their guardians, and subsequently become desensitized to violence and killing. Additionally, as cockfighting and dogfighting almost invariably occurs in or around homes in residential urban areas in Cuyahoga County, children also frequently become unwilling participants in this subculture of violence. It is indeed disheartening to enter a residence with a search warrant and find children’s books interspersed with animal fighting literature, foodstuffs in refrigerators with syringes and performance enhancement drugs, and training equipment mixed with toys–all within easy reach of small children.
"One shocking trend in Cleveland is that we are seeing more and more juveniles becoming involved in â€˜street bouts’. Neighborhood youths can find it quite profitable to procure a Pit Bull from any number of neighborhood breeders and face them off in alleyways and vacant lots. These â€˜bouts’ happen so quickly that the juveniles are long gone before police or humane investigators can arrive on scene — only to find a badly maimed animal that was left behind simply because it lost a fight. Yet another life discarded senselessly."
Officer Mignano described some examples of what he sees "routinely":
1. In 2005, a 15 year old juvenile set up a Pit Bull fighting ring in his Cleveland backyard and charged admission to local neighborhood youths. His mother denied any knowledge of the event despite the fact that it had been going on for some time. APL humane investigators found a veritable graveyard of dead Pit Bulls in shallow graves in an adjacent lot. The juvenile was convicted of dogfighting and was also convicted of concurrent charges involving the sexual molestation of an 18 month old baby.
2. In 2006, a Cleveland man was convicted of killing his 9 yr. old son by scalding him with hot water over an issue with the family Pit Bulls. The father also appeared in a video tape that I seized during a search warrant on another Pit Bull fighting case the same year. The father was featured in the video with his young children, multiple Pit Bulls and scenes depicting actual dog fights.
3. In 2006, APL investigators were alerted by federal marshals that while conducting electronic surveillance of suspected drug dealers they intercepted conversations between suspects regarding cockfighting at an address in Cleveland that we had also been investigating. During the ongoing investigation with the Cleveland Police we encountered a male subject who tried to use a three yr. old family member as a ‘human shield’ in an attempt to avoid being arrested for an outstanding warrant. Subsequently, over 80 chickens and fighting roosters were seized from the location along with vitamins, steroids, spur covers and assorted syringes. A number of the original participants were convicted on federal drug charges.
4. In 2007, I executed a search warrant at a west Cleveland home where an alleged cockfighting ring had been taking place. Inside the home we found blood smeared on the walls of a bedroom, score sheets, holding cages and 15 roosters in pens in the backyard. A number of the birds had injuries, scars and missing feathers. Inside a child’s bedroom were notebooks containing crude sketches of chickens fighting with each other.
Dean Vickers, Ohio State Director for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), also testified. Vickers pointed out, "Cockfighting is associated with other illegal activities such as gambling, drug trafficking, and weapons possession. Law enforcement officials have documented the strong connection between cockfighting and these other forms of crime and often learn about illegal cockfighting operations as a result of narcotics investigations."
Vickers told the Committee, "You may hear testimony from the Ohio Gamefowl Breeders Association and other cockfighting interests. The Ohio Gamefowl Breeders Association (OGBA) is an affiliate of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association (UGBA), and the group serves no purpose other than to promote illegal cockfighting. Since 1999, the UGBA and other cockfighting groups have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight legislation that strengthened the anti-cockfighting laws at the state and federal level.
"They have opposed every state law that banned cockfighting or that toughened the penalties against cockfighting, and they have opposed the federal law which recently made interstate cockfighting activities, including the commerce in cockfighting weapons, a federal felony. …
"It is a distortion for cockfighting apologists to suggest that gamefowl breeders–whether the UGBA or OGBA–engage in legitimate agricultural activities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio Department of Agriculture, and others involved in agriculture do not consider the rearing of birds for fighting to be a legitimate agriculture enterprise and do not account for the sale of cockfighting birds as part of the agricultural economy, just as we do not consider the rearing of dogs for fighting or the growing of marijuana or cocaine to be legitimate agriculture operations….
"Legitimate agricultural organizations and farmers, in fact, have joined with us in the effort to eradicate cockfighting, not only because of the cruelty endured by the birds, but also because cockfighting poses a serious and constant threat of disease transmission to the commercial industry.
"The National Chicken Council (NCC), the trade association that represents 95% of U.S. poultry producers and processors, has called cockfighting ‘inhumane,’ and called on Congress to pass felony-level penalties for cockfighting. NCC wrote in a letter to Congress, "we are concerned that the nationwide traffic in game birds creates a continuing hazard for the dissemination of animal diseases.’"…
The Profit in Animal Fighting Far Outweighs Criminal Penalties in Ohio
Vickers stated, "Cockfighting is a uniquely profitable gambling crime for the derby winners. As a result, the current penalties have been entirely ineffective in deterring this activity as the penalty does not come remotely close to outweighing the gain. A well known cockfighting pit in Vinton County Ohio last year had entry fees that ranged from $150 to $400 for each participant in the derby. If 50 people enter the cockfighting derby the day when the entry is $400, then that is $20,000 in the pot. Someone is going to walk away with that money every weekend when they hold their fights.
"The penalty has to outweigh the gain that comes from breaking the law. Clearly no cockfighter is deterred by a class 4 misdemeanor when they can win tens of thousands of dollars at one of the larger fights. …
"Cockfighting is already a felony in 37 states and Ohio’s weak cockfighting law makes the state a magnet for criminal activity from surrounding states where cockfighting is already a felony. Neighboring states that punish cockfighting as a felony include Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana. Legislators need to set meaningful penalties that effectively deter people from pitting these birds in fights to the death. Cockfighting is widespread in Ohio because the people involved in this crime have nothing to fear from the current law.
"The penalty for cockfighting right now is less than what many of them will lose on any 2 minute fight at a day long derby. The current penalties are seen as the cost of doing business."
Original report: This bill, H.B. 415 will increase penalties for dog fighting in violation of O.R.C. §959.16 to a 3rd degree felony. This means anyone involved in dog fighting, whether as a promoter, employee, spectator, someone buying or selling tickets or selling, purchasing, using, possessing or training a dog for fighting.
The bill also increases penalties for cockfighting and other animal fighting in violation of O.R.C. §959.15 to a 4th degree felony.
The bill adds a provision that any equipment and paraphernalia confiscated from dog fighters can be forfeited and sold and the proceeds, along with any cash seized, can be to cover the costs of care of the animals or for education about animal fighting.
This bill can only help law enforcement battle animal fighting in the state. In the past 1 1/2 years there have been at least 16 dog fighting busts involving dozens of dogs. This in a state that says all pit bull type dogs, those usually used by fighters, are "vicious". This in a state that usually simply kills any pit bull type dog that is impounded.
In the same period there were cockfighting busts involving hundreds of birds including those now in the care of Happy Trails Sanctuary.
There is also another bill, H.B. 71, that passed the House last fall that would add provisions for seizure, impoundment and forfeiture of animals treated cruelly or involved in animal fighting. These provisions are important because without a seizure provision, many times dog fighters or cock fighters will simply move the animals to another city or county and resume their illegal activities.
These provisions also allow authorities to take ownership of the animals and place them. Without the authority to care for and place the animals, many jurisdictions simply don’t have the resources to seize and house animals during the pendency of cruelty or animal fighting charges. Authorities are much more likely to pursue abusers and animal fighters if they have a means of placing the animals.
The bill also makes it illegal to pay or receive not only money but anything of value for admission to a dog fight.