Animal Wellness Action Denounces New Bill from Guam Delegate to Legalize Cockfighting in U.S. Territories
Similar legislation has been introduced by Delegate from Puerto Rico and attracted no support from any sitting U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative from the states.
News Release from Animal Wellness Action Sept 20, 2023
(Washington, D.C.) - Animal Wellness Action strongly criticized the effort by Delegate James Moylan, R-Guam, to repeal a 2018 provision of the National Animal Fighting Law applying to the U.S. territories.
Congress overwhelmingly strengthened the federal law against animal fighting in December 2018, extending all prohibitions in the federal law to apply to all U.S. territories. The Farm bill amendment, approved nearly without any dissent in the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate, had a one-year phase-in and took full effect in December 2019. It had already been illegal for years to ship fighting birds to Guam, to possess animals for fighting, or to be a spectator at an animal fighting venture.
Since the comprehensive territorial ban was imposed, cockfighters have openly defied the national anti-animal fighting law and continued illegal cockfights on Guam even though they risk felony-level penalties that allow for up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for a single violation. Animal Wellness Action documented these fights through a series of investigations.
Subsequent to the enactment of the 2018 amendments to the National Animal Fighting Law, a Guam-based cockfighter sued to invalidate the law, and a U.S. District Court Judge based in Guam rejected the claims, as did the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Similar challenges from cockfighters in Puerto Rico also met with unanimous opposition from federal judges, as has a third case initiated by a cockfighter in the Northern Marianas.
“Delegate Moylan has made a political and policy misjudgment in seeking to restore legal knife fights between animals on our beautiful island,” said Dr. Thomas Pool, senior veterinarian for Animal Wellness Action and the Territorial Veterinarian for Guam for 17 years. “This pro-cockfighting bill is an embarrassment to Guam. Cockfighting is barbarism, closely tied to gambling crimes, narcotics trafficking, and other lawless behaviors.”
Dr. Thomas Pool, also a retired Army Colonel who ran the U.S. Army Veterinary Command, announced last year that he had refused to sign import permits for fighting birds destined for Guam. Animal Wellness Action documented the illegal shipment over five years of 11,500 fighting birds from the states to the territory.
“I hope Delegate Moylan’s cockfighting followers understand that his legislation has zero chance of moving an inch in the Congress,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action. “In fact, Congress is expected to pass legislation to address cockfighting, but that legislation will toughen the law against animal fighting and allow private citizens to bring civil actions against people breaking our anti-cruelty laws. Cockfighters and dogfighters will now face even more legal jeopardy.”
Driven by concerns for the barbarism of animal fighting, mass shootings and other crimes commingled with staged animal combat, as well as disease threats to poultry and other birds posed by illegal transports of fighting roosters, U.S. Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and John Kennedy, R-La., introduced legislation in May to strengthen the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting. Their bill is the companion to H.R. 2742, introduced last month by U.S. Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Andrea Salinas, D-Ore. Their bipartisan, bicameral legislation is entitled the Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Trafficking (FIGHT) Act.
The FIGHT Act, amending Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, would enhance enforcement opportunities by banning simulcasting of and gambling on animal fighting ventures; halting the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) through the U.S. mail (shipping dogs by mail is already illegal); creating a private right of action against illegal animal fighters; and allowing for forfeiture of property assets used in animal fighting crimes.
“For thrills and gambling, dogfighters and cockfighters place animals in pits and goad them to injure, mutilate, and kill,” added Pacelle. “The FIGHT Act will provide more tools to law enforcement to root out this barbarism in the nation and prevent the spillover of violence and mayhem in our communities.”
“Animal fighting is cruel, illegal, and unacceptable,” said Senator Booker, who introduced the FIGHT Act in May as S. 1529. “It’s time we take stronger action to stop these heinous abuses against animals and protect them from being exploited for entertainment and profit. This bill will tighten enforcement to put a stop to illegal animal fighting.”
“When it comes to dog and cock fights, these abusers are organized and dangerous—to people as well as innocent animals,” said Senator Kennedy, who is the co-author of the Senate bill. “It’s illegal to hurt God’s creatures for sport, and our bill would give law enforcement more tools to end this widespread abuse.”
U.S. Representative Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Andrea Salinas, D-Ore., previously introduced the companion bill, H.R. 2742.
Under Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act, 7 U.S.C. 2156, it is a crime to:
- Knowingly sponsor or exhibit in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly attend an animal fighting venture, or knowingly cause an individual who has not attained the age of 16 to attend an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly buy, sell, possess, train, transport, deliver, or receive any animal for purposes of having the animal participate in an animal fighting venture;
- Knowingly use the mail service of the U.S. Postal Service, or any “written, wire, radio televisions or other form of communications in, or using a facility of, interstate commerce,” to advertise an animal for use in an animal fighting venture, or to advertise a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument designed to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture, or to promote or in any other manner further an animal fighting venture except as performed outside the U.S.;
- Knowingly sell, buy, transport, or deliver in interstate or foreign commerce “a knife, a gaff, or any other sharp instrument” designed or intended to be attached to the leg of a bird for use in an animal fighting venture.
You can learn about the legislative history of animal fighting here. A fact sheet on the FIGHT Act is available here. Our new research paper on cockfighting and avian influenza and other infectious diseases can be found here. And you can read a summary here of the federal courts’ upholding all provisions of the animal-fighting law as
Animal Wellness Action is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) whose mission is to help animals by promoting laws and regulations at federal, state and local levels that forbid cruelty to all animals. The group also works to enforce existing anti-cruelty and wildlife protection laws. Animal Wellness Action believes helping animals helps us all. Twitter: @AWAction_News