Ohio lawmakers look to crackdown on cockfighting

Two cockfighting rings busted in the span of three days has law enforcement, farmer and animal welfare groups calling for Ohio to step up penalties for people who stage and watch these fight-to-the-death spectacles.

State Reps. Heather Bishoff, D-Blacklick, and Barbara Sears, R-Sylvania, are pushing House Bill 215, which would make staging or witnessing cockfighting an unclassified felony, punishable by fines of up to $10,000.

Authorities in Mahoning County seized birds from two different cockfighting rings on Jan. 26 and Jan. 28, according to the Youngstown Vindicator. In May 2014, law enforcement seized more than 72 roosters and cited 52 people in a cockfighting ring in Fulton County. Most of those ticketed came from Michigan and Indiana and just nine lived in Ohio.

In a cockfight, specially bred roosters wear knives or icepick-like instruments called gaffs, strapped to their heels. They fight to the death before spectators, who often bet on the outcome. Common injuries to the birds are punctured lungs, pierced eyes and broken bones.

“Criminals are coming to our state to participate in this cruel blood sport because Ohio has notoriously lax penalties for cockfighting. Indiana and Michigan, as well as all other Great Lakes states, have punished cockfighting as a felony for years,” says Corey Roscoe, Ohio state director for the Humane Society of the United States. “Yet Ohio has failed to catch up; the maximum fine for cockfighting in our state is $250. Only Alabama and Mississippi treat cockfighting more leniently.”

Supporters of House Bill 215, which is awaiting a House floor vote, include the Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Poultry Association, Humane Society of the United States, Ohio Fraternal Order of Police, Ohio Veterinarian Association and more. The bill would prohibit people from being employed at a cockfighting event, betting on results, paying admission, bringing a minor to the event, or possessing or using devices or substances intended to enhance the bird’s fighting ability.

Legislation calling for stiffer penalties has been introduced at least four times but the bills have stalled, Roscoe said. “Do we really need to keep having cockfighting raids to see that this bill is necessary?”

Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association, issued a statement this week that said in part: “Ohio needs a penalty for cockfighting that keeps the criminals and their birds out of our state. Legislation that would effectively address this problem has been proposed in several legislative sessions, and yet our state’s leaders have been unable to pass this important measure. Ohio’s legislators should be swift and forthright in taking the necessary steps to bring Ohio in-line with other states.”