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Fact Sheet On H.R. 5268, The Animal Fighting Enforcement Act

H.R. 5268 is a bipartisan bill that authorizes felony-level jail time for violations of the animal fighting provisions (Section 26) of the Animal Welfare Act, increasing the maximum penalty from 1 year to 2 years imprisonment. The bill also prohibits interstate commerce in knives and gaffs designed specifically for cockfighting purposes, and improves and updates provisions regarding the seizure and disposition of animals involved in violations.

Felony penalties are needed. U.S. Attorneys have told humane organizations and others that they are reluctant to pursue animal fighting cases with a misdemeanor penalty. The case record since 1976, when Section 26 of the AWA was enacted, supports this claim; federal authorities have advanced only three cases since 1976, even though USDA has received innumerable tips from informants and requests to assist with state and local prosecutions. Increased penalties will provide a greater incentive for federal authorities to pursue animal fighting cases.

Other recent federal animal protection laws have felony penalties.
In 1999, the Congress enacted a provision prohibiting the sale of videos depicting animal cruelty (P.L. 106-152) providing for up to 5 years imprisonment - more than twice the jail time called for in this legislation. The 106th Congress also enacted the Federal Law Enforcement Animal Protection Act (P.L. 106-254), which authorizes fines and mandatory jail time of up to ten years for willfully assaulting, disfiguring, maiming or killing a federal police dog or horse.

H.R. 5268 brings federal law in line with state animal fighting laws. When the federal animal fighting law was originally introduced in 1976, no states made animal fighting a felony. Today, 46 states make dogfighting a felony, and 27 make cockfighting a felony. Over this same period, the number of states making animal cruelty a felony has risen from just 4 states to 37 states today. State laws commonly provide a maximum jail time of 5 years, or more, for animal fighting. The jail time in Section 26 of the AWA has not been updated in 26 years, and H.R. 5268 better aligns federal law with state animal fighting laws.

The House and Senate already passed felony penalties for animal fighting. Both chambers of Congress in 2002 overwhelmingly passed a two-year maximum jail time for animal fighting as part of their respective Farm bills. Not one member of either chamber raised objections to the penalty provisions during floor consideration. However, though both the House and Senate passed identical animal fighting language that should not have been conferenceable, the increase in jail time to two years was dropped in conference. H.R. 5268 restores this penalty provision.

H.R. 5268 prohibits the interstate shipment of sharp implements designed just for cockfights. These razor-sharp knives commonly known as "slashers" and ice-pick-like gaffs are attached to the legs of birds to make cockfights more violent. They are sold through cockfighting magazines and through the Internet. Six states ban possession of these implements (California, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Missouri) These weapons are used only in cockfights, and given that the Congress restricts shipment of birds for fighting, it should restrict implements designed specifically for fights.

An animal fighting industry continues to thrive across the U.S. Though all 50 states ban dogfighting, and 48 states ban cockfighting, there are numerous nationally circulated animal fighting magazines that promote these cruel practices, and advertise and sell fighting animals and the accoutrements of animal fighting. There are websites for animal fighting enthusiasts, and paid lobbyists advocating animal fighters' interests.

Dogfighting and cockfighting are inhumane and barbaric activities. In a typical fight, two animals bred and trained for fighting are drugged to heighten their aggression and set against each other in a fight to the death - all for the amusement and illegal wagering of handlers and spectators. Cockfighting and dogfighting are associated with other criminal conduct, such as drug traffic, illegal firearms use, and violence toward people. Children are often present at these gruesome spectacles. There is a national consensus that dogfighting and cockfighting are outside the norms of civilized behavior.