Humane Society director says cockfighting penalties too lenient

Published 9:54 pm Monday, December 7, 2009

The director of the Chilton County Humane Society is supporting legislation that would increase penalties for illegal cockfighting in Alabama.

Joe Murphy, a former animal control officer who was involved in a major bust in Clay County in 2008, approached the Agriculture Committee of the Alabama Legislature last year but without success.

Murphy said not enough committee members showed up for a quorum, and the bill never made it out of committee.

“I find [illegal cockfighting] barbaric,” Murphy said. “I have three roosters that live in my yard in harmony. Man has done this to these animals.”

Rep. James Fields (D-Cullman) plans to introduce legislation in the 2010 Regular Session that would set what supporters call “meaningful” penalties for illegal cockfighting.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, Alabama has the nation’s weakest anti-cockfighting law. Although the practice is a felony in 39 states, the blood sport is only a misdemeanor in Alabama, punishable by a maximum $50 penalty — a fine easily offset by major gambling profits.

A Mason-Dixon Poll conducted in November showed 82 percent of Alabama voters agree that cockfighting is animal cruelty and should be a felony crime, while only 5 percent said it is a tradition and should be preserved.

“These polling numbers are a clear statement that the citizens of Alabama do not condone this violent activity and want to see it stopped,” Fields said.

Rep. Jimmy Martin said there are quite a few supporters of the sport, however, who are just as adamant about keeping things the way they are.

“There’s a lot of people that enjoy going to cockfighting,” Martin said. “The chicken fighters are very adamant with their sport just like people who are trying to stop them.”

In turn, Martin said, many legislators do not want the bill passed. Martin added he has no stance on the issue presently.

“There’s a lot of pressure being put on different members of the committee [by legislators] because some of their constituents don’t want it to come out,” Martin said.

Murphy said roosters used in fights are bred to be aggressive and that they are equipped with sharp weapons in place of their natural spurs. He said they have been known to pass out from exhaustion and are resuscitated to fight again later.

“I couldn’t believe the blood loss I saw,” he said, offering a brief description of an arena complete with concessions and bleachers.

“It was like a little league ballgame.”