JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — Animal wellness advocates and Tennessee lawmakers are pleading with law enforcement at the local level to enforce the crime of cockfighting.
Cockfighting is banned in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia, however, it remains legal in U.S. territories like Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
In Tennessee, a first offense for cockfighting is a misdemeanor.
Dogfighting, however, is a felony in all 50 states, including the District of Columbia and U.S. Territories.
Pheben Kassahun explains how lawmakers are now pushing to create the crime into a felony.
Tennessee state Sen. Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol) has been a longtime advocate against animal fighting in Tennessee. He is revisiting the issue after a recent report found Tennessee breeders have gone through a loophole to benefit from cockfighting overseas.
Animal advocates and lawmakers want to emphasize that there is no moral distinction to different forms of animal fighting.
“It has been a tough push but I hope that Tennessee will become one of the states that has made this a felony penalty in the future and I will continue to drive that,” Lundberg said.
Lundberg led an effort in 2015 to make cockfighting a felony but that failed in the legislature.
“A lot of folks say cockfighting is a part of our culture and they don’t want to change it. Well, there are a lot of things that were a part of our culture that we don’t do anymore and, frankly for that, I think God. I don’t think cockfighting is a part of the culture that most civilized people want,” Lundberg said.
Animal Wellness Action President Wayne Pacelle said some Tennesseans are shipping birds to U.S. territories and other countries.
“There were 88 fighting birds sent to Guam. We traced those birds back to 71 exporters from the United States. Tennessee was the number six exporter to Guam,” Pacelle said. “We’re finding that the Tennessee cockfighters are more briskly serving the Mexico market and other markets throughout the world.”
The nine individuals reportedly live in these Tennessee cities: Athens, Gallatin, Hartsville, Manchester, McMinnville, Murfreesboro, Springfield, and Talbott, which is the closest city to the Tri-Cities in Hamblen County. The organization reported the nine Tennessee residents to the United States attorney for action.
“Animals are placed in a pit with knives or ice-pick-like devices called gaffs affixed to their legs. Their gated to fight from a pit from which they cannot escape. They stab each other. They slice each other until one of the birds cannot continue,” Pacelle said.
Lundberg said this is more than just birds fighting.
“You have drugs that are being sold and bought. You have lots of alcohol, you have underage participation, you have prostitution, you have an organized crime,” Lundberg said.
“This is barbarism,” Pacelle said. “Folks are appearing on the covers of global cockfighting magazines. They’re pretending to be breeders or pretending to say we’re just selling show birds or we’re just selling birds for agriculture, yet there’s no other reason for them to have these birds.”