ANNAPOLIS — Cockfighting violations aren't listed anywhere among the 26 categories of arrest statistics maintained by the state Uniform Crime Reporting division.
But reports of the illegal gambling activity pitting two roosters -- often drugged and fitted with sharp weapons attached to their legs -- in a fight to the death have been received throughout the state, says Nicky Ratliff, president of Professional Animal Workers of Maryland Inc.
On behalf of PAWS, Del. Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll, Howard, hasintroduced a bill intended to enhance law enforcers' ability to investigate the incidents and make arrests. The legislation would apply statewide.
The bill would make it a misdemeanor to be a spectator at a cockfight, punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or by up to 90 days in jail, or both. It also makes it a misdemeanor to be a spectatorat a dogfight.
Currently, only those who own the animals or who conduct the fights can be arrested under animal fighting laws.
"Most participants of this illegal form of entertainment walk away laughing at the entire judicial system," said Ratliff, also the Carroll Humane Society director, in a letter to Elliott. "With your help they won't be laughing much longer."
The bill was prompted by an event last April in which police raided a cockfight attended by about 100 in Charles County. Thirty-seven of those charged with animal cruelty were found guilty.
But attorneys and detectives encountered technicallegal obstacles and administrative problems in the investigation andprocessing of the case that could be eased by Elliott's bill, wrote Jacquelyn Wood Cowan, manager of Charles County Animal Control.
Elliott says he's not an "animal rights extremist," but is sponsoring the bill to prevent the "barbaric mistreatment of animals. It's a horrible, brutal event."
Cockfighting is outlawed in 44 states, and isconsidered a felony in 16. Thirty-one states have outlawed being a spectator.
Ratliff said current law obstructs investigations by animal control organizations or law enforcement agencies because it is difficult to prove who owns the birds, who is mistreating them and whose money is being gambled. Consequently, the law isn't enforced adequately, she said.
"This would make it a lot easier to use taxpayers' dollars to stop something taxpayers don't want," she said.
Ratliff said the Carroll Humane Society has received reports of cockfighting in a "couple of locations" in Carroll, but the agency doesn't havethe money, manpower or time to investigate.
Spectators often are "undesirable people" -- substance abusers with criminal records, she said. Arrest records from around the country show drugs and weapons are common at the fights.