Of the 52 people who were busted in a cockfighting raid in Fulton County this month, just nine are Ohio residents; the rest are from Michigan and Indiana. That isn’t a coincidence: Ohio is the sole Great Lakes state — and one of only nine in the nation — that still treats cockfighting as a misdemeanor, rather than the felony it is.
Becoming a haven for cockfights likely isn’t part of Ohio’s economic development strategy. Unless state lawmakers approve of extreme cruelty to animals in the name of entertainment, they will finally align the punishment of this barbaric practice with the seriousness of the crime.
About three-fourths of the defendants in the Royalton Township bust pleaded guilty last week to aiding and abetting animal fighting. They were assessed a $250 fine — the legal maximum in Ohio — and court costs. They don’t face jail time unless they commit a similar offense within three years; if they do, the stiffest sentence would be 30 days.
The fine is less than the potential winnings from betting illegally on cockfights, or from the $5,000 to $6,000 an Ohio operator can collect in a weekend from staging them, or from the tens of thousands of dollars a fighting bird can win for its owner. It’s hardly a deterrent.
Police seized 72 roosters from the site of the raid. That fact, animal welfare advocates say, signals the presence of an organized cockfighting ring.
In the uplifting spectacle of cockfighting, roosters bred for aggression are fitted with razor-sharp knives or instruments similar to ice picks, called gaffs, that are strapped to their heels. They often are given drugs to boost their adrenaline.
Birds are thrown in a pit and forced to fight to the death. Before that outcome, the so-called gamecocks routinely endure pierced eyes, punctured lungs, and broken bones.
Illegal gambling is part and parcel of cockfighting. Drug dealing and organized crime often accompany the activity as well, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration says.
The Humane Society of the United States says only Mississippi and Alabama have weaker anti-cockfighting laws than Ohio. The General Assembly has killed efforts in recent years to toughen penalties against cockfighting.
Whose interests are lawmakers protecting? The tired excuse that cockfighting is an authentic cultural expression shouldn’t fool anyone anymore.
Proposed legislation would make cockfighting in Ohio a felony, subject to a penalty of as much as $10,000. The felony charge would apply only if there are aggravating circumstances, such as the presence of children at cockfights. It isn’t enough, but it’s a start.
Dogfighting has been a felony in Ohio since 1980, and properly so. Yet the state continues, inexplicably, to treat cockfighting as a lesser offense.
Cockfighting not only is cruel to the animals it sacrifices; its violence also diminishes and desensitizes the humans who watch it. Ohio’s wrist-slap penalties do more to validate the brutal activity than to proscribe it. That has to change.