SPRINGFIELD -- Cockfighting and other forms of animal combat for sport would become felonies under legislation on Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s desk.

By DANA HEUPEL


STATE CAPITOL BUREAU


 


SPRINGFIELD -- Cockfighting and other forms of animal combat for sport would become felonies under legislation on Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s desk.



The Illinois House and Senate last week unanimously passed House Bill 3614, which would increase penalties for all versions of animal fighting. Current law addresses dogfights, but the new legislation would create equal punishment for staged fights involving all animals, including gamecocks, and events such as bear or alligator wrestling.



“It seems to be increasing all the time,” Ledy VanKavage of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said about cockfighting. She said part of the reason is the influx of Latino immigrants.



“In Mexico, cockfighting is legal,” she said, “and with the increase in Hispanic population, sometimes recent immigrants don’t realize that it’s illegal here in the States.”



At present, cockfighting is a misdemeanor in Illinois, and fights staged here often draw participants from nearby states. Last November, 74 people were arrested during a raid near Rockford. Only 13 were residents of that area.



“When police officers go on those raids, they also will find illegal drugs (and) illegal weapons,” said VanKavage, who teaches at the Illinois State Police Academy.



“I’m not aware of any cockfighting in central Illinois,” said Victor Juarez of Springfield, founding president of the local chapter of National Image Inc., a Hispanic advocacy group. “That doesn’t mean it does not exist, but I haven’t seen it.”



A spokeswoman for a statewide immigrants rights organization did not return a telephone message.



A woman who answered the telephone at the Beardstown Police Department said she also was not aware of any cockfighting activity among the Latino immigrant population in Cass County. She referred further questions to the police chief, who could not be reached Tuesday afternoon.



Cockfighting is outlawed in all states except Louisiana, VanKavage said. Both legislative chambers in that state have passed bills to ban it, but can’t agree on an effective date.



Rep. Ed Sullivan, R-Mundelein, sponsored the Illinois legislation and said it also hikes penalties for injuring service animals and police dogs. He said he expects Blagojevich to sign the bill.



Under current law, cockfighting is a Class A misdemeanor, which could net a participant up to 12 months in prison and a $2,500 fine. Making it a Class 4 felony would increase the punishment to one to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine. The legislation also would make a second offense a Class 3 felony, punishable by two to five years in prison and a $25,000 fine.



In addition, VanKavage said, “most police officers don’t realize in all the animal-fighting laws is that forfeiture laws do apply.”



“So if they go in on a cockfighting raid or a dogfighting raid, not only can they seize the illegal drugs, weapons and money that’s there, they can go after these persons’ assets. They can go after the bank accounts, they can go after the barn where it was held, they can also go after the person’s vehicle,” she said.



“They can really be lucrative busts for police departments.”



VanKavage said the ASPCA may reach out to immigrant organizations for help in educating recent immigrants that animal fights are illegal.


 


Dana Heupel can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or dana.heupel@sj-r.com.