Kitty Block, an animal rights activist, says Congress won’t change the measure
Tuesday, November 12, 2019 – 11:20 AM
Kitty Block, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, defended the federal ban on cockfighting -which will come into effect in Puerto Rico in almost a month- because she understands that its time has passed.
The entity that works to pass local, state and federal laws to protect animals, lobbied against cockfighting in Congress, which extended the existing state ban to U.S. territories, such as Puerto Rico.
Responding to arguments in defense of the cockfighting industry, Block said the ban on cockfighting and dog fighting in any jurisdiction is a social evolution to eliminate acts of cruelty.
“The Humane Society of the United States has long opposed cockfighting and dog fighting. There has been a struggle to keep animals from fighting each other for entertainment and gambling,” Block said in a telephone interview with El Nuevo Día from Washington, DC.
She added that especially in cockfights, owners strap knives to the birds’ legs. “It’s an awful blood sport,” she said.
“When a society participates in such acts of cruelty, it degrades the society’s ability to care for animals and we believe that having children watch those acts of cruelty can desensitize them to pain and other things,” Block said.
According to rooster breeders, they have implemented measures over time to improve the treatment of birds, reducing the rounds and regulating the type of spurs they used.
“We understand traditions, but traditions evolve over time,” said Block. “Cruelty is not culture, and the (federal) court has just ruled that the law can be extended (to U.S. territories). It has nothing to do with freedom of expression or anything like that. It’s cruelty,” she added.
The legal battle
Block was referring to federal judge Gustavo Gelpí’s ruling, who dismissed a lawsuit by the Club Gallístico de Puerto Rico and the Asociación Cultural y Recreativa del Gallo Fino de Pelea to declare the federal ban unconstitutional.
Gelpí thus upheld the validity of the bipartisan bill known as Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, a bill authored by federal representatives Peter Roskam and Democrat Earl Blumenauer.
Members of the cockfighting industry advanced that they will appeal to Gelpí’s ruling, while Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González announced that she will try to push Congress to grant an extension while continuing to push a previous bill that would prevent the ban.
About the possibility of reversing the ban, Block said “I don’t think that will happen. I think everyone involved in this understands the impact of cockfighting and dog fighting, how cruel they are, and that they should no longer be promoted in the 21st century. It’s something that has to end.”
“What this last law does is eliminate confusion remaining about where it applies and where it does not apply,” she said.
The PACE Act, passed last December, amended the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 extending the ban to the territories.
“Puerto Rico is part of the U.S., it is a territory, so applicable laws must apply everywhere. There shouldn’t be an area where this activity is allowed to continue,” Block said.
One of the main arguments by the local cockfighting industry focus on the negative impact the ban will have on the island’s economy since they claim the ban will eliminate an industry that – creates -direct and indirect –thousands of jobs.
According to Block, this an argument they often hear and “we are not indifferent to that, but the idea that you have to keep jobs that entail inherently cruel and abusive practices to sustain them, is not a real argument,” she added.
“They are inhuman practices that are not good and just because someone makes money out of it, it doesn’t mean we should keep them,” said the activist, who believes that governments should help those impacted by the ban to “a transition to more human sustainability.”
Another argument against the statute is that the federal ban on protecting roosters has been extended to Puerto Rico, while other practices against animals, such as sport hunting, are allowed in the United States.
Block noted that the Humane Society also campaigns against sport hunting, as well as the use of animals in other entertainment activities in the United States.
“Their argument (cockfighting industry) is interesting, but what it says is that you can never stop abuse as long as there are still other abuses,” said Block. “If that’s the standard, then you can never achieve anything.”
She stressed that in the last few years they have been part of the efforts that led to the elimination of dog races in several states, -Florida has recently been included in that list- just as they have worked for state governments to pass laws against cockfighting.
“They are going to close seven dog-racing tracks in Florida and we are going to try to close the ones remaining in the United States. Trophy hunting? We are opposed to it. And so we continue on different fronts, but the fact that we don’t achieve to have everything banned at once doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start somewhere,” she said.