Cockfights and Puppy Mills

Lawmakers look to strengthen cruelty laws

Cockfights and Puppy Mills

Lawmakers last week stood up against puppy mills and cockfighting, offering bills that would strengthen laws against animal cruelty – and bring Texas laws into the modern era.

According to John Goodwin, the director of animal cruelty policy for the Humane Society of the United States, most states have outlawed cockfighting since the 1800s. Texas did so in 1907, but the state's law against the cruel practice is so lax as to be nearly unenforceable, Goodwin noted during a Feb. 15 press conference to support House Bill 1043, Center GOP Rep. Wayne Christian's bid to strengthen the statute Indeed, according to Christian and Goodwin, Texas' law is impotent: It outlaws making roosters fight, but fails to sanction spectators, or even to rein in cock breeders. The new bill – also supported by Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville – would make illegal the manufacturing and sale of cockfighting implements (like the knives strapped to the birds' legs); illegal to breed, raise and train cocks for fighting; and would make it illegal to attend a fight.

Each of the states that border with Texas have strong laws against cockfighting, making Texas a magnet for those seeking to hold and attend fights, said Goodwin. And, notably, said Christian, the cockfighting business brings with it a host of other criminal activities – including drug dealing. During a recent bust in East Texas, Christian noted that police collected two trash bags full of drugs dropped by spectators. And the Drug Enforcement Administration has made it clear that members of several Mexican drug cartels have used the cockfighting circuit to find new ways to distribute their wares, he noted. A similar attempt to strengthen the ban on cockfighting made it through both houses last session, but was killed by then-Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas. With Hodge, who pleaded guilty to charges related to the public corruption case against her, gone, many believe this will be the year lawmakers will finally end the brutal games. There is nothing to say about cockfighting except that it is "cruelty to animals," said Christian, "unusual cruelty to animals."

Similarly, Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, brought with her a stuffed dog to a presser Feb. 17, where she announced the filing of HB 1451, which would task the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation with promulgating and enforcing regulations pertaining to large-scale dog and cat breeders. The bill is an attempt to outlaw puppy mills – currently-unregulated large-scale breeding operations that cruelly submit animals to constant breeding cycles while subjecting them to unsanitary and inhumane living conditions. An attempt last session to pass anti-mill legislation died, in part because of opposition from other breeding entities who feared that the attempt would catch them in the net. This time around, however, the Texas Veterinary Medical Association – key to killing the measure last time – is on board in support of the bill: "We do not want to put reputable breeders out of business," TVMA's Director of Government Relations, Elizabeth Choate, said in a press release. "Just those facilities that fail to meet any basic standard of care – the true puppy mills."

Indeed, Thompson made it clear that the point of the bill is only to ensure that large-scale breeders conduct their business in a legit and humane way. "We're into cats and dogs," she said, and into ensuring that animals involved in wide-scale breeding operations are treated in a humane manner – given time to heal between breeding cycles and are housed in clean facilities where they're given access to a "food, water, and some exercise," and not "treated as little machines to continuously [produce] one group of litters behind another, behind another," she said. The bill has already received bipartisan support, including from Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, Austin Dem. Rep. Eddie Rodriguez and Brownsville's Lucio, she noted. Thompson said that with the bill's modest proposal and bipartisan support she is "very confident" the bill will pass this year. Monica Hardy, executive director of the Texas Humane Legislation Network, which has pushed for anti-puppy-mill legislation since 2008, says that it is "crucial" that the state pass this bill – lest Texas become a hot-spot for large breeding operations, akin to the cockfighting mecca that lawmakers say Texas has become because of its weak laws. "[Thirty-three] other states have passed similar legislation regulating large scale (high volume) commercial dog and cat breeders, including Oklahoma and Louisiana," she wrote in an email to LegeLand. Hardy notes that THLN isn't about putting breeders out of business, but rather about ending puppy mill cruelty. "Without regulation, Texas is increasingly [becoming] a haven for these operations that put profit above animal welfare."

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Senfronia Thompson, Texas Humane Legislation Network, Monica Hardy, Legislature, 82nd Legislature, cockfighting, Wayne Christian, puppy mills, animal cruelty, HB 1451, HB 1043, gambling, animal welfare, Humane Society of the United States

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