Editorials

State should stiffen penalties for cockfighting

Authorities in Marlboro County, S.C., broke up an active cockfight March 28, resulting in the arrest of 27 suspected cockfighters and the rescue of 122 gamefowl and one emaciated dog with 10 pups. The birds were found in various conditions, and four had to be euthanized due to their injuries.
Authorities in Marlboro County, S.C., broke up an active cockfight March 28, resulting in the arrest of 27 suspected cockfighters and the rescue of 122 gamefowl and one emaciated dog with 10 pups. The birds were found in various conditions, and four had to be euthanized due to their injuries. AP Images for The Humane Society of the United States

If South Carolina is serious about ending the bloodsport of cockfighting, it needs tougher laws against it.

In 2006, the state sought to stiffen criminal penalties for staged animal fights, including cockfighting, dogfighting and hog-dogging, where dogs are used to chase down and kill a hog as a spectator sport. Lawmakers passed bills making both dogfighting and hog-dogging felonies, but the proposed tougher penalties for cockfighting were weakened in conference committee.

The state Senate is taking another shot this month at increasing penalties for staging or observing a cockfight. The bill would increase penalties for sponsoring or being present at a cockfight.

Those staging a cockfight would be subject to felony charges on a second offense with a fine of between $1,000 and $3,000 and up to five years in prison. Spectators could be charged with a a felony on a third offense, facing fines of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

Under current state law, cockfighting or being present at a cockfight is punishable by up to a $1,000 fine and a year in prison for first offense, and up to $3,000 and three years in prison for second and subsequent offenses. Fines that small can practically be written off as the cost of doing business.

Breeders of the fighting birds say they are being unfairly targeted by people who just don’t understand this age-old tradition. But nothing in the bill would criminalize the breeding or keeping of the birds.

The purpose of increasing the penalties would be to discourage the well organized underground cockfights that usually feature high-stakes gambling and drug use. And make no mistake, the fights still are common in the state. There were 46 charges of cockfighting in S.C. courts last year with 41 leading to convictions.

Another reason to crack down on cockfighting is the brutal nature of this so-called sport. The fighting birds often are injected with steroids to make them more aggressive. They also are equipped with gaffs – sharpened metal spurs – in fights that can go on until one bird is killed.

It’s a cruel exploitation of animals. And, tradition or not, it is demeaning to anyone who engages in or watches the birds go at each other.

The state made strides years ago in cracking down on dogfighting and hog-dogging. It’s high time we did the same for cockfighting.

We hope lawmakers will support the effort to end a practice that has no place in a civilized society.

In summary

If the state wants to get serious about cracking down on cockfighting, it needs to increase the legal penalties.

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