Judge Tosses Cockfighting Charges; Says Kentucky Law Is Too Ambiguous

Montgomery District Judge William Lane recently threw out charges against more than 500 people who were issued citations after a raid of a cockfighting operation in April. Lane said that the state statute cited by prosecutors which bans attendance at cockfights was ambiguous and could not sustain the charges against those cited.

The problem appears to be with a practice that is quite common and usually drives animal rights activists through the roof. The statute cited as banning cockfighting is quite clear that it is illegal for spectators and vendors to appear,

. . . at an event where a four (4) legged animal is caused to fight for pleasure or profit.

As the judge noted in throwing out the charges, chickens have only two legs. Typically, though, state and federal agencies have a habit of classifying animals for the purposes of law enforcement in ways that defy common sense, such as the USDA’s habit of defining non-bird species as poultry and thereby exempt from certain parts of the Animal Welfare Act. It usually has very good reasons for doing so — namely that Congress hasn’t appropriated it enough funds to actually oversee the care of the redefined animals — but it also goes against common sense. In Kentucky, prosecutors and police seem to be treating chickens as four-legged animals for the purpose of this statute.

The law also contains a highly ambiguous section that exempts “sporting activities,” but does not define that term. Lane noted that common definitions of “sporting activities” could easily encompass cockfighting, and that it is unclear what the legislature meant in that instance.

Michael Endicott, a lawyer representing some of those charged with attending the cockfight, told the Lexington Herald-Leader,

It’s not a very well-written statute. The judge is right. If the legislature wants to make cockfighting illegal, they should spit it out.

Police and prosecutors disagree. A police spokeswoman told the Lexington Herald-Leader,

We respectfully disagree that cockfighting is exempt as a sporting activity according to the statute.

The newspaper reported that prosecutors and police were still deciding whether or not to appeal the decision.

John Goodwin of the Human Society of the United States wants prosecutors to appeal. He told the Lexington Herald-Leader,

This ruling could have huge repercussions across the state. We believe it must be reviewed by a higher court.

Of course the risk there is that a higher court could agree with Lane and instead of having one district judge throwing out charges, the entire statute could be invalidated as far as cockfighting is concerned.


Judge tosses out cruelty charges from cockfight. Peter Mathews, Lexington Herald-Leader, August 16, 2005.

PETA Wants NCAA Ban on Gamecock Mascot

In August, the National Collegiate Athletic Association issued a report ruling putting restrictions on tournament appearances by teams that continue to use Native American mascots. That as the perfect opportunity, of course, for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to step in and ask the NCAA to do the same thing to some universities that have animal mascots.

Specifically, PETA requested that the NCAA enact the same sort of sanctions against Jacksonville State and the University of South California — both schools use Gamecocks as their mascot.

PETA’s Dan Shannon was quoted by The Birmingham News as saying,

Our position is that since cockfighting is illegal in 48 states in this country and a felony in South Carolina — you go to jail, period — we don’t think schools should be promoting this illegal act with their mascots. Our problem with Gamecocks is it promotes cockfighting. That’s not only illegal, but tremendously cruel to the animals involved. We’ve been in contact with the presidents of these universities for several years. We’ve exchanged polite letters back and forth, very polite and respectful, but they have chosen not to change their names. With the NCAA decision about Native American nicknames, we hope that might spur them on — no pun intended — to adopt a nickname more respectful to animals.

PETA’s Allison Ezell, who sent a letter to NCAA president Myles Brand, said the group does not object to other animal mascots such as the Oregon Ducks or Baylor Bears which, “highlight the power and beauty in the natural world.”


PETA asks NCAA to ban Gamecocks nickname. Mike Perrin, The Birmingham News, August 12, 2005.

PETA asks USC to change nickname. The State.Com (University of Southern Carolina student newspaper), August 12, 2005.

HSUS Wants Filmmakers to Boycott New Mexico

The Humane Society of the United States purchased a number of ads in the Sundance Film Festival Insider, the film festival’s daily program, urging filmmakers to stop making movies in New Mexico until the state bans cockfighting.

The text of the ad warns filmmakers that, “In New Mexico, ‘Entertainment’ Includes Watching Animals Fight to the Death.”

Currently about four major films are scheduled for shooting in New Mexico, and Governor Bill Richardson called HSUS’ tactic immature, according to the Associated Press.


NM cockfighting ban debate sparks boycott ads in Utah, citations in Idaho. Associated Press, January 25, 2005.

The HSUS Appeals to Filmmakers at Sundance for Support on N.M. Cockfighting Ban. Press Release, Humane Society of the United States, January 20, 2005.

PETA, HSUS to Focus on Cockfighting Bans in Lousiana, New Mexico

With the recent Supreme Court decision that ended two years of efforts to overturn Oklahoma’s cock-fighting ban, and the defeat of a pro-cockfighting politician in Louisiana, the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals look to focus on enacting bans in Louisiana and New Mexico, the last two states in the United States where cockfighting is allowed.

PETA is focusing on New Mexico. In a press conference with Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez and actress Rue McClanahan, PETA’s Dan Mathews said,

Yes. Absolutely. We are targeting New Mexico.

Over the past few years, New Mexico has become a hot spot for filming Hollywood productios and Mathews hopes to convince producers to avoid the state until a ban on cockfighying is passed.

Cockfighting is already banned in 13 of New Mexico’s 33 counties, and in 29 of its cities, including Albuquerque. A proposed ban on cockfighting passed New Mexico’s state house earlier this year, but couldn’t get out of committee in the state Senate.

PETA wants the state to take up a cockfighting ban during its 60-day session that begins in Jaunuary. According to the Albuqurque Journal, a poll it took thsi summer found that two-thirds of registered voters supported a ban on cockfighting.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, however, remains non-committal on a ban, with his spokesman telling the Albuquerque Journal,

Cockfighting is already banned in the majority of counties and municipalities. The governor is willing to discuss and consider any legislative measure after a full and thorough debate on all sides.

Meanwhile, HSUS is looking to push a ban in Louisiana, where its political action committee spent $250,000 in advertising against a pro-cockfighting candidate for U.S. Senate. HSUS’s Wayne Pacelle was quoted in The Guardian (UK) as saying,

We intend to eradicate this cruel, barbaric practice. My advice to anyone moving to Louisiana thinking it’s a cockfighting refuge is not to unpack their bags — it’s going to be a very short stay.


PETA targets NM film industry over cockfighting. Dennis Domrzalski, New Mexico Business Weekly, November 15, 2004.

Cockfight ban gets TV star’s support. Kate Nash, Albuquerque Journal, November 16, 2004.

Final battle to rid the US of ‘barbaric’ cockfighting. Richard Luscombe, The Observor, November 21, 2004.

Pacelle on Effect of Cockfighting on Louisiana Senate Race

Earlier I mentioned speculation that an anti-cockfighting ad campaign by Humane Society of the United States’ political action committee may have helped Republican David Vitter become the first Republican senator from that state since Reconstruction. The Associated Press ran a story this week looking at the extent of HSUS’ campaign and what, if any, effect it had.

HSUS targeted Democratic U.S. House Rep. Chris John, who is pro-cockfighting. Louisiana has an odd election system which typically leads to two viable Democrats running against a single Republican. If no single candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, which frequently happens, there is a run-off between the top two vote getters. The upshot is that the Democrats had never lost using this system until this year (and are now talking about ditching this bizarre process).

According to the Associated Press, HSUS’ PAC spent $250,000 targeting John, including mailing 300,000 pieces of mail to white female voters that quoted John saying, “I strongly support the cockfighting industry in Louisiana.” The PAC also paid for a television ad which told viewers that John considers cockfighting to be a “family-type thing.”

Was that the ultimate determinant? The Associated Press notes that John was such a weak candidate that he actually lost his home parish of Acadia by 10,000 votes to Vitter. Not to mention that Vitter did a good job of portraying the conservative, cock-fighting supporter John as a liberal in a state that George W. Bush won by 15 points.

The Associated Press quotes HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle as saying,

Cockfighting wasn’t the most important issue, but it was a measure of personal character. Polls show that people really want to be proud of Louisiana, and to have someone who advocates cockfighting is someone who’s going to reinforce perceptions that Louisiana is backward.

. . .

There was a political judgment made — Chris John made it — that there’s this group of voters out there that thinks cockfighting is fine, and that the right political stance is, cockfighting is fine. This election demonstrated that that’s the wrong political position.

Personally, I think Vitter’s election shows just how Republican the South is becoming, but seeing a supporter of cockfighting lose out in the process certainly doesn’t hurt.


Animal rights group claims victory in Louisiana’s Senate race. Doug Simpson, Associated Press, November 21, 2004.

Is Pro-Cockfighting Stance a Political Liability in Louisiana?

The surprise election of Republican David Vitter to Louisiana’s open Senate seat has some Democrats wondering whether the pro-cockfighting position of the leading Democrat candidate cost them the election.

Vitter’s win was a major upset — a Republican had not been elected to the Senate in Louisiana since the end of Reconstruction.

The major problem the Democrats had is that no less than three Democrats ran for the office, splitting the vote and media attention between them.

But exit polls also showed that Vitter received 32 percent of the votes from white women — a surprisingly high number. According to The Times-Picayune,

Some Democratic women said they were turned off by [leading Democratic candidate] John’s support for the bloody sport of cockfighting, an issue that was highlighted by ads from an animal rights group.


La. Dems diagnose party ills after loss. Bill Walsh, The Times-Picayune (Louisiana), November 14, 2004.