ANNAPOLIS – Spectators at illegal dog- and cockfights would be subject to criminal penalties under a bill proposed by Delegate Charles Boutin, R-Harford.
Watching such dubious sports encourages them to continue and contributes to other illegal activities that tend to follow such fights, according to speakers at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday.
Boutin’s bill would making observing animal fights a misdemeanor subject to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine, but would make breeding or transporting fighting dogs a felony worth three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Arranging cockfights, breeding fighting birds or fitting fighting birds with enhancements – knifelike implements called gaffs or slashers or other names – also would be felonies subject to the three-year, $5,000 penalty.
In addition, cockfighting is a threat to agriculture, Boutin said, because a virus associated with fighting known as “Exotic Newcastle Disease” could spread to commercial poultry.
The disease, which wreaked havoc in California in 1971 and led to the destruction of 12 million birds, is both a contagious and fatal viral disease affecting all types of birds, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
In 2002, Maryland’s poultry industry ranked No. 7 nationally, according to Statistics Director Norman Bennett at the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.
The Humane Society is supportive of the legislation.
Wayne Pacelle, spokesman for the Humane Society, said, “People pit animals against one another. It’s illegal in all 50 states, and a felony in 47 states.”
But animal fighting has its supporters.
John and Joseph Zannino, of the United Game Fowl Breeder’s Association, said they consider the fights sport with an audience “greater than soccer” worldwide.
“You are taking away our privilege,” said Joseph Zannino. “Why can’t I do something that I’ve been doing for 50 years? The sport is now coming to an end.”
Jeff Gray, a historian at the Fraternal Order of Police No. 89 of Prince George’s County in Upper Marlboro, has investigated “animal fighting.”
There’s a strong connection between such fights and other illegal activity, particularly gun and drug trafficking, he said.
Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, R-Calvert, attempted to put the issue in perspective for those in attendance.
O’Donnell said it is the next issue of concern after domestic violence and egregious acts of child abuse. He added that methamphetamines laboratories are often associated with animal fighting.