WASHINGTON -- While Oklahoma's ban on cockfighting remains in legal limbo, a new federal law kicked in Wednesday that backers believe will strike yet another blow against even the breeding of fighting birds.

The new law makes it illegal to ship dogs or birds across state lines for the purpose of fighting.

"Cockfighters, put down your knives and gaffs," said Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of The Humane Society of the United States, a major backer of the new law.

"Recognize that cockfighting and dogfighting are not appropriate or civilized activities."

Pacelle's organization believes the new provision, which closed what it viewed as a loophole in federal law, will be felt most acutely by the thousands of gamefowl breeders who sell fighting birds both in the United States and overseas.

Those American breeders, the group says, now will have no legitimate reason to own or breed the animals except in Louisiana and New Mexico, the two states where cockfighting remains a le gal enterprise.

Passed by both houses during the last Congress, the provision initially made such illegal shipments a felony.

That language, however, was weakened to a misdemeanor in conference.

Still, Pacelle, who met with officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Wednesday, expressed confidence that the agency will take its enforcement responsibilities seriously.

"It's definitely on their radar screen," he said.

"We expect the implementation of the federal law to be the beginning of the end for this despicable industry."

Even though it allows for only a misdemeanor conviction, the new law includes penalties of up to a year in federal prison and a $15,000 fine.

Bipartisan legislation was introduced earlier this year to increase those penalties.

James Tally of Cartwright, president of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association, conceded the new federal law will block many breeders from making a living.

"It is a bad law," Tally said.

"I think that is going to stop a lot of people in the United States from being able to sell fowl that goes to Guam, Philippines and Puerto Rico, where it is all legal."

He said the new law, however, will not stop all breeders.

"It is still legal to sell breeding stock," Tally said. "I would assume that as long as you are shipping brood fowl, you are not breaking the law."

He said Oklahoma is known for having a better quality of breeders.

Oklahoma voters last November approved a new law making cockfighting illegal and subject to felony charges.

Soon after that vote, however, backers of cockfighting went to court and won injunctions against enforcing the new law in more than two dozen counties. The state Supreme Court was also asked to consider the constitutionality of the cockfighting ban.

A proposal to weaken the state penalty currently is in front of state lawmakers. The bill's author, Sen. Frank Shurden, D-Henryetta, had his legislation returned to committee last week.


Jim Myers (202) 484-1424

jim.myers@tulsaworld.com