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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 1, 2003

Cockfighting bill advances

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

A state Senate committee yesterday advanced a bill that would toughen penalties for cockfighting after it heard strong support for the measure at a public hearing.

SB 1581 would create a new Class C felony, "aggravated cruelty to animals," to include cockfighting, which is currently a misdemeanor. Maximum penalties would be five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

One provision would define cockfighting and dog-fighting events as nuisances subject to citations.

Most who testified yesterday before the Senate Committee on Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs spoke in favor of the bill, answering a call by humane societies around the state. Support included a 750-name petition gathered by the Hawaiian Humane Society.

Society president Pam Burns cited research showing a link between animal cruelty and violence against humans. "When a person abuses an animal, all society is at risk," she said.

After the hearing, Burns said offenders prosecuted under current laws typically are fined $50 to $100.

Pam Smith, a former 'Ewa Neighborhood Board member, said cockfighting had brought traffic and drug activity to her community. "The killing of even one more bird for fun and profit is inexcusable," she said.

Annette Lee, speaking for The Hawaii Game Breeders Association, questioned the rationality of criminalizing cockfighting when destruction of animals by the humane societies is legal.

"We do need to get our priorities in order when it comes to increasing felony crimes," Lee said.

Opponents of the bill included those who have opposed the Hawaiian Humane Society on other issues. One was Frank De Giacomo of Animal Care Foundation, an animal-rescue organization that has challenged the society on its program of controlling the feral animal population through euthanasia.

Others said cockfighting is a cultural tradition fully understood only by those who practice it, and not by humane societies that kill animals for other reasons.

"How do you define cruelty?" said Elizabeth Royos of Waiahole. "The bottom line is killing is killing."

Burns countered, "It's not whether an animal is killed or not. It's that people are taking pleasure out of watching them die."

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.