Stronger Penalties Proposed for Cockfighting

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Mississippi lawmakers will soon be addressing a law that hasn't seen much updating in more than a hundred years. And some say it's past time for it to happen.

The illegal sport of cockfighting is an underground activity apparently practiced across the nation.

If you ask John Goodwin with the Humane Society of the United States, Mississippi is a magnet for it.

"This cruel blood sport is wide and pervasive in various nooks and crannies around the state," he said.

Goodwin says cockfighting is big business in the state because Mississippi has the second weakest cockfighting law in the nation, just ahead of Alabama.

"There is a large cockfighting pit in Tippah County up near Ripley that attracts people from all over the country, even though it's a felony to cross state lines for an animal fighting venture," Goodwin said.

While cockfighting is illegal in the state, getting busted is a misdemeanor and the maximum fine is $100. That law went into the books in the 1800s and hasn't been adjusted for inflation since.

"As a result we have a lot of cockfighters who have come here to take advantage of the weak penalties," said Goodwin. "So basically, Mississippi is attracting crime by having a weak penalty for cockfighting."

Several bills at the state capitol are trying to change that. One would increase the maximum fine to $500 and another would make cockfighting a felony on the second offense.

Mississippi is one of ten states without a felony provision.

Sen. Deborah Dawkins is supporting the felony bill because current penalties aren't enough.

"People who engage in these activities do not seem to be taking them seriously," Dawkins said.

Dawkins said she would like to see the offense be a felony after the first offense but says change has to move slowly.

By increasing penalties, Humane Society state director Lydia Sattler says she hopes perceptions on animal cruelty will change.

"People think that just because it's a bird, that's it's not a dog or a cat, that it doesn't have to be treated humanely," said Sattler.

Lawmakers also want to work with neighboring states to make sure penalties are increased as well, so the problem doesn't just move across state lines. Those cockfighting bills are awaiting committee approval.