EASLEY — The South Carolina Chapter of the U. S. Humane Society brought a contingent of the local state delegation together last week to discuss the state of animal rights in the state.
The agenda for the forum was geared toward the prevention of cruelty to animals and covered topics ranging from fines and jail time for cruelty and making cockfighting penalties within the state tougher.
“It’s a new topic to us. The state of South Carolina has never really addressed these issues,” State Rep. David Hiott said. “We’re reactionary instead of being proactive and I think that’s where we are. We’re behind the eight-ball, dragging our feet.”
Puppy mills, bear baiting, large-scale animal cruelty offenses and the owning of “dangerous, wild animals” were all discussed at the Feb. 28 meeting, but of all the topics in South Carolina that evoke the greatest range of reactions from the voting public, cockfighting appears to be the hot button topic.
“The cockfighting issue, when it comes up, you’d be surprised how many people get involved,” Hiott said of the controversial issue. “A couple of years ago when the issue came up at the state level, I got email after email asking to not make cockfighting a felony. I always asked why and the answers were almost always the same. They were contacting me for someone they know.”
Money, it seems, is what keeps cockfighting alive, not only in South Carolina but nationwide.
“I met a guy in the last year or so who told me he had just came back from the National Cockfighting Championships in Kentucky (where cockfighting is legal), where he had placed second,” Hiott added. “When I asked him how much he won he said $35,000. First place got $50,000. So think about it: You raise some birds in your backyard, participate in this activity and there’s money to be made.”
Felony Cockfighting (S. 529/H. 3049) would increase the offense for both participating and spectating at cockfighting events, with felony charges possible. Current legislation calls for a maximum fine of $1,000, but is usually lower when assessed.
According to the Humane Society, cockfighting brings out-of-state competitors because it is a misdemeanor in South Carolina, bringing along gambling, drugs, illegal weapons, and child endangerment into the state.
“It’s still — I don’t call it a sport — but it’s still an activity folks participate in, especially in this area,” Hiott said. “It’s surprising the number of people who do participate in it and the numbers of people who come in from out of state for ‘cockfighting derbies’ is surprising too.”
Whether cockfighting in South Carolina will be categorized going forward based on introduced legislation is yet to be seen, but Hiott said he has an understanding of what the process will be like to make change.
“With as many legislators as we have in the Senate and House, all representing different parts of the state and interests,” he said, “it won’t happen overnight. But, if anything is ever going to change, we have to get the issues to the forefront.”