Children have no business attending animal fights

How we treat animals is an important part of our humanity. Animal fighting has no more justifiable place in our society than human gladiators. Those who support the cruelty of dogfighting and cockfighting should be held accountable.

That is why I co-sponsored the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which prohibits knowing attendance at organized animal fights and imposes additional penalties for causing a minor to attend such bloody spectacles. It is not only outrageous to subject animals to such cruelty, but even more so to bring children as spectators.

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Three men recently pleaded guilty in federal court to a number of charges relating to their involvement in operating one of the nation’s largest cockfighting pits, the Big Blue Sportsmen’s Club in Kentucky. According to an affidavit filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture agent who led the investigation, this was the destination of choice for animal-fighting criminals from all over the country. Tens of thousands of dollars regularly changed hands as roosters were fought to the death with razor-sharp knives tied to their legs.

This cockfighting pit apparently operated for decades with no interference from local law enforcement, and only closed due to federal law enforcement. Through amendments to the Animal Welfare Act, the federal animal fighting law, enacted in 1976, was generally limited to dogfighting.

In 2002, Congress closed the loopholes that allowed cockfighters to avoid federal prosecution. Further upgrades were enacted in 2007 and 2008.

Our recently approved farm bill this year included the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which made it a federal crime to attend an animal fight and a federal felony to bring along someone 16 years old or younger.

My home state of Texas has not been immune to animal fighting. In August 2013, federal investigators issued indictments for individuals in Texas, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia who were believed to be raising pit bulls for high-stakes fights.

According to the FBI, spectators would pay up to $150 to attend these barbaric events and bets could run as high as $200,000. This was apparently the second largest coordinated series of dogfighting raids in our nation’s history. The largest, discovered in 2009, involved eight states. Federal investigators raided the leaders of this massive dogfighting operation, rescuing more than 500 pit bulls.

These criminal networks often cross multiple state lines and have roots in numerous communities. This is why Congress voted for a strong, national animal fighting law, and why federal law is necessary to combat the larger issue of dogfighting and cockfighting. When the tentacles of criminal networks extend into multiple states, a federal response is needed.

Prosecuting animal fighters and shutting down these cruel and criminal operations is a win for animals and a win for our communities. Together, we have made significant progress in combating this inhumane practice, but animals in many of our communities continue to suffer. Let’s continue to stand up for these innocent animals and the children brought to these atrocious events.

Doggett has represented Texas congressional districts based in Austin since 1995. He sits on the Ways and Means Committee.