CARSON CITY — Nevada must approve a bill to make cockfighting a felony, or the state could become the Western haven for the practice, Humane Society activists testified Thursday.
While they mentioned no specific cockfights in the state, Holly Haley and John Goodwin, leaders of the Nevada branch of the Humane Society of the United States, said the state’s misdemeanor law is too lenient when surrounding states make it a felony or assess a high fine.
Cockfighting enthusiasts “feel it is a ‘get out of jail free’ card,” Goodwin told members of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.
Under Senate Bill 83, someone who charges admission to cockfighting events and keeps a place for cockfighting would be subject to a sentence of at least one year in prison and a $5,000 fine. The offense now is a gross misdemeanor that could mean up to a year in jail, but often ends with a fine. A person who knowingly witnesses a cockfight or keeps barbs and other items used by the cocks also can be charged with a felony.
Goodwin said knives and ice picks often are attached to the heels of the fighting birds.
Not one person testified against the bill, while a horde of police and animal activists expressed their support. Lawyers suggested minor amendments, such as one to make sure that someone who unknowingly rents land or a building to a cockfighting promoter cannot have his property confiscated.
The two ranchers on the committee — James Settelmeyer of Minden and Pete Goicoechea of Eurkea, both Republicans — said they never have witnessed or heard definitively that cockfighting happens in Nevada. Goicoechea said he has heard rumors about cockfighting and believes it might be occurring, but is more a problem in states such as Texas.
But Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas, said cockfighting is more of an urban, rather than rural problem. He said he receives a call a month from constituents who say they have seen cockfighting or discovered dead birds in the desert areas around Las Vegas.
He called the current misdemeanor offense a “slap in the hand.” Police often do not respond when they receive 911 calls about cockfights because the crime does not involve humans, he said.
Manendo said you typically come across cockfights when you see 30 or more cars parked in a circle. Often the participants are playing loud music and consuming drugs, he added.
As evidence that cockfighting is a problem in Nevada, Haley and Goodwin noted a report issued by The Animal Foundation of Las Vegas.
The group said it cared for 2,467 roosters and hens in the past three years that had been confiscated by animal control agencies in Clark County. Most birds were aggressive, difficult to handle and of breeds used for cockfighting. Most also needed medical attention and in the end, 2,005 required euthanasia.
They also released a national magazine presumably for cockfighting called “The Gamecock.” In the April 2010 issue, an advertisement from Las Vegas offers supplements and energy food for cocks. It makes no mention, however, of using the supplements for cockfighting birds.
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