Cock fighting opponents will make another try to stiffen law

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A bill that would stiffen penalties for those found guilty of gamefowl fighting, or so-called “cock fighting,” did not pass during the 2014 Legislative session, but the Humane Society and its sponsor said they’ll try again to raise penalties for those who engage in the practice.

SB112, sponsored by Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, was discussed into the final minutes of the Utah Legislative session in March, but lawmakers couldn’t come to agreement. Failure to agree effectively killed the bill as the clock struck midnight, signaling the end of the legislative session.

The way the law stands, gamefowl fighting is always a Class B misdemeanor, no matter how many times one is charged. In its original form SB112 sought to change the law so that a first-time offense for gamefowl fighting would be a class A misdemeanor, with a third-degree felony for second, or subsequent, offenses.

A gamefowl rooster out of his coop.
A gamefowl rooster out of his coop.

The House later amended the bill so it stated that gamefowl fighting was a Class A misdemeanor no matter how many offenses are committed, an amendment the Senate lawmakers refused to concur with. When the bill was sent back to the House, a motion was made to change the amendment so the Senate could agree.

 

“Representatives, we did the right thing with this amendment. It is a good amendment; I don’t think we need to recede the bill,” said Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove. “I don’t think a felony is appropriate here for the reasons previously stated; it ruins lives. You lose your job, your voting right, (it’s) difficult to find work, and (there are) many other problems, so I would urge us to stick to our guns and not recede from this amendment.”

Sen. Davis D-Salt lake City discussing SB112 the final day of the legislature.
Sen. Davis, D-Salt Lake City, discussing SB112 the final day of the legislature.

That was the second time Davis failed to convince his legislative colleagues to stiffen penalties for gamefowl fighting. Davis said he is “very, very disappointed because it really means that we aren’t listening. I think if you listen to the people, the people don’t want this, and we’ve really aided and abetted a very small group of individuals in the state of Utah. And with every other state around us having it as a felony I think all that we’ve done is open the door for this activity to only grow.”

Davis referred to an article written in The Game Cock magazine as evidence of this. In an anonymous article a man who only identified himself as the Roundhead Man publicized the fact that “Utah is the place to go” for this type of activity.

 

David Devereaux, director of the American Game Fowl Defense Network, said, “That was actually a reader letter, that was not an article endorsed by the Game Cock magazine; that was a letter written by an individual who will only identify himself as Roundhead. … How appropriate is it to base public policy on an anonymous letter written to The Game Cock magazine, compared to the statistical analysis where law enforcement said that (gamefowl fighting) is a negligible to non-existent problem.”

Devereaux said his ultimate idea to deal with the problem would be to create an exemption for gamefowl fighting through a regulated environment that could generate tax dollars — something he said he sees as being possible through the government selling licenses that would allow people to harvest their chickens or enter them in fights. Davis said he worries that there is a lot of illegal gambling that goes on around cock fighting, both in and out of the pit.

Carl Arky, director of communications at The Humane Society of Utah, worked with Davis to draft SB112. The opposition to the bill during testimonials in committee included the claim that cocks fight naturally, to which Arky replied that he doesn’t think cocks fighting with knives is natural. “It all comes down to humanity, at the end of the day; is this really something that’s humane to do, to strap these knives onto the legs of these birds and put them into an enclosure where they have no choice but to fight and standing back watching it, betting on it and taking your kids to see that — is that where we are as a society,” Arky said. “If we are then I’m concerned.”

Tim Fitzgerald holding one of his gamefowl cocks in the chicken yard.
Tim Fitzgerald holding one of his gamefowl cocks in the chicken yard.

Tim Fitzgerald, a cement contractor who lives in Bluffdale, is one who is not so concerned about the effect of cock fighting on society. At first glance, his backyard seems to have nothing but a bunch of garages; the only telltale sign of chickens in the area is the cluck and crow. On one of the garages a sign reads, “Tim’s Hole.” Through this door the chickens are found; in an acre field bordered by chicken coops there are about 30 cocks tied up with rope around their feet. Each cock is held so there is a six-foot-diameter buffer zone between each.

“If they weren’t tied up,” Fitzgerald said, “they’ll kill each other.” Fitzgerald has been raising gamefowl his whole life, a tradition passed on to him by his father, the same tradition Fitzgerald hopes to pass on to his own son.

Fitzgerald said he was happy SB112 did not pass because it was a bad bill from the start, a bill he said was trying to find a problem where there isn’t one. “Our plan is to make this legal in the state of Utah; we should receive equal protection the same as … falconers,” Fitzgerald said. According to Fitzgerald, falconeering is basically the same as cock fighting, “except they pit falcons against defenseless animals.”

Arky and Davis hope to push another bill through state Legislature next year by working on a grass-roots level to build support before the session starts in January 2015.

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