Senator doesn’t think cockfighting should be felony
Story by Chris Graham
I didn’t think I’d find anybody who would speak out against the proposed legislative package from Attorney General Bob McDonnell that has the bloodsport of animal fighting in its crosshairs.
But there is at least one prominent member of the Virginia Senate who doesn’t think that the package is all it’s made out to be.
“We don’t want to condone behavior that’s cruel and inappropriate. On the other hand, I think there’s somewhat of an overtendency to make felons out of individuals that, whether we agree with it as an inappropriate behavior or not – we have penalties, and we should have penalties, for inappropriate behavior, including activities in gambling on cockfighting and things of that sort. But we also have to recognize that poultry – chickens, specifically – are not the same as dogs in this instance. So I don’t think it’s appropriate to have the same level of penalty,” said Hanger, R-Mount Solon, who isn’t in agreement with McDonnell that the state needs to make cockfighting a felony, among other things.
McDonnell included a measure to make cockfighting – which is currently not a crime in the Commonwealth – a felony, in addition to making the act of being a spectator at a cockfight and other animal fights a misdemeanor.
The criminalization of animal fighting is being pushed by McDonnell and a bipartisan coalition of state lawmakers in the wake of the revelations that former Virginia Tech and NFL quarterback Michael Vick had organized a dogfighting ring in Southeast Virginia and had engaged in the sport for several years.
McDonnell indicated in an interview for “The SportsDominion Show” last week that he wants to put the spotlight on the aspect of his legislative package making all animal fighting a Class 6 felony.
“Currently only dogfighting is – but cockfighting is not a crime at all unless there’s gambling involved. But neighboring states like North Carolina and Maryland have already made it a felony, and so we’ve got more people interested in cockfighting in Virginia,” McDonnell said.
“Our proposal is to make all animal fighting a felony – because it’s basically a bloodsport. It’s related to gambling, it’s related to other types of crimes in Virginia, and there’s evidence that people who are involved in animal fights, particularly young people, later on go on to other types of crime. So it’s a signficant issue to be addressed,” McDonnell said.
Hanger, for his part, feels that misdemeanor penalties are more appropriate in animal-fighting cases.
“The current legislation that would elevate it all to a felony status, one of the big problems that we’re experiencing right now, Chris, is that we have so many violations of the law now that are felonies that we’re putting people behind bars in the state prisons for longer periods of time, but there’s a cost to the taxpayers on that. We’re having to spend over a billion dollars a year right now on all the people that we’re putting in the state correctional system,” Hanger said in an interview for yesterday’s “Augusta Free Press Show.”
“I just think it’s a matter of how significant the penalties should be,” Hanger said. “I certainly think there should be certain penalties for things like cockfighting. Like it or dislike it, there are people who raise gaming birds in our area and throughout Western Virginia and parts of Virginia, and I won’t say it’s an appropriate thing to do always – it’s like a lot of things, it depends on what you do with that hobby, if you will. But it has been a part of the culture in Western Virginia. It’s something that I think we are outgrowing, in many respects. But I do have concerns that we are gradually increasing the value, if you will, of animal life to that of human life.
“When you’re talking about companion animals, dogs and things of that sort, we do have that kind of significance and attachment. But on the other hand, when you’re talking about animals that we routinely raise and chop their heads off to eat, it’s a different story,” Hanger said.