It's the Law, Part 4—Organized Abuse, Including Dogfighting and Cockfighting

by Felicia Langel, DVM

Animal-based blood sports are as old as human civilization itself. But what was once thought of as entertainment is now recognized as cruel and exploitative. In Maryland Code Criminal Law Title 10, Subtitle 6—Crimes Relating to Animals, Section 10-606, it is a misdemeanor to attend a dogfight or cockfight as a spectator; active participation in such an event is a felony.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, dogfighting and cockfighting account for millions of dollars in unreported income due to illegal gambling, admission fees, and animal breeding services. Other crimes associated with dogfighting and cockfighting include possession of illegal drugs and weapons, rape, and homicide.

Worldwide, many breeds are used in dogfighting. In the United States, however, fighting dogs are almost exclusively "pit bull" dogs. These dogs are derived from several recognized breeds—most commonly the American pit bull terrier. Pit bulls are not bred to be aggressive to people, but rather to be obedient and athletic. They are also bred for "gameness"—a degree of courage and determination that can, through training, be translated into a willingness to engage in combat with another dog.

Fighting dogs are schooled and conditioned for about 18 months before entering the fight pit. They are typically kept on short, heavy chains, isolated from other dogs or just out of their reach. This prevents early socialization with other dogs. They are trained using smaller dogs, cats, or other animals as bait. Dogs who succeed in the pit are bred, while dogs who fail are killed, either during the fight or afterwards by their owners. Eventually, all fighting dogs, regardless of their success in the pit, are disposed of to make room for the next generation of fighters.

Gamecocks are among the oldest breeds of domesticated chickens. Fighting birds are roosters whose comb, wattles, and earlobes have been cut off to prevent these appendages from hemorrhaging during a fight. The natural spurs on each heel of the bird are either left intact, or are sawed off to create an anchor point for attaching a metallic weapon. Though naturally aggressive, fighting birds require training and conditioning to be successful in the fight pit. Fighting birds almost always die in the pit.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that hundreds of thousands of dogs are involved in dogfighting. Cockfighting is similarly widespread. These violent and secretive activities may even be rebounding, facilitated by social media.

If you see or suspect animal neglect or another form of cruelty, report it to Frederick County Animal Control (301-600-1544 or 301-600-2558 after hours) or dial 911. You may choose to report animal cruelty anonymously, though doing so may hinder the investigation. You may also submit complaints related to animal cruelty online:

Felicia Langel, DVM, is Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Veterinary Corps, and secretary of Frederick County's Companion Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.