Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act

Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act - Photo by Marji Beach

On February 7, 2014, President Obama signed HR 2642, the Agricultural Act of 2014 into law. The Farm Bill, as it is more commonly known, included language from HR 366 and S 666, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act.

The new law will better protect our communities from the cruelty and violence of animal fighting and its associated crimes. It strengthens existing law to include not only those who stage such fights, but also those who serve as a driving force behind them: the spectators. It also includes more severe penalties for those who subject minors to animal cruelty by taking them to animal fights.

Animal fighting is barbaric. It is a violent crime that causes immense suffering to countless numbers of innocent animals. It threatens our communities in many other ways as well. There is a strong connection between animal fighting and other forms of violence, and animal fighting is frequently associated with gangs, drugs, gambling, money laundering, illegal guns, and other offenses—even homicide. Reporting on the sentencing of the kingpin of a drug trafficking ring in Louisiana, the US Drug Enforcement Agency described him as “an avid pit bull and cock fighter [who] utilized these illegal events as a networking tool to recruit members to transport and sell marijuana and cocaine for his organization.”

The Animal Legal and Historical Center at the Michigan State University College of Law describes dog fighting in these stark terms:

The notion that dog fighting is simply an animal welfare issue is clearly erroneous. … The magnitude of criminal activity concurrently taking place at the average dogfight is of such a scope as to warrant the involvement of a wide range of agencies, including local, regional, and federal law enforcement agencies and their specialized divisions such as organized crime units, SWAT teams, and vice squads, as well as animal control agencies and child protective services.

In the last few years, the federal government has increased coverage of and penalties for animal fighting activities under the Animal Welfare Act, but it is still lacking in one area: the spectator. Spectators are not innocent bystanders; through their admission fees and wagers, they are active participants in and enablers of these cruel criminal enterprises and should be treated accordingly. Moreover, when a fight is raided, the organizers, promoters, trainers, and owners are able to disperse and blend into the crowd to escape arrest.

The new law, based on provisions of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, will close this loophole. This law makes knowingly attending an animal fight punishable by fines and up to a year in prison. Also, recognizing that exposure to animal cruelty—especially the egregious brutality of animal fighting—can desensitize children to violence at an early age, the law makes it a separate offense, with even higher penalties, to knowingly bring a minor to such an event.

The law will not ensnare individuals who genuinely are unaware they are present at an animal fight; it requires that a person is knowingly a spectator. These operations are illegal everywhere. They are highly clandestine, with locations divulged through secret networks; passwords are often required and sizable entrance fees must be paid, so it is highly unlikely that a person would be present unwittingly.