Is Cockfighting Illegal? Unpacking Laws Across the US

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In the patchwork quilt of American criminal law, the practice of cockfighting—a bloodsport where two roosters fight to the end in a ring—stands as a stark symbol of animal cruelty debates and legal battles across the nation. This article aims to shed light on the current legal stance against cockfighting in the United States, detailing the laws that condemn the activity, the penalties involved, and the ongoing efforts to curb this centuries-old practice.

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Federal Legislation Against Cockfighting

The pivot to a more stringent stance on cockfighting in the U.S. was marked by the enactment of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and its subsequent amendments. However, the legislation specifically targeting cockfighting is the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act of 2007.

Key Provisions:

This federal law provides for felony penalties for interstate commerce, import and export related to animal fighting activities, including cockfighting. The law emphasizes the prohibition of any form of support for this activity, including shipping of fighting birds, possession of fighting paraphernalia, and attendance of fights.

State Laws and Penalties

Beyond federal regulations, individual states have enacted their own laws against cockfighting, with penalties ranging from misdemeanor charges to felonies for repeat offenses or instances involving large-scale operations.

  • Alabama: Felony on first offense.
  • Alaska: Misdemeanor.
  • Arizona: Felony.
  • Arkansas: Felony.
  • California: Felony for multiple offenses or if done for financial gain.
  • Colorado: Felony.
  • Connecticut: Felony.
  • Delaware: Felony.
  • Florida: Felony.
  • Georgia: Felony.
  • Hawaii: Misdemeanor.
  • Idaho: Felony.
  • Illinois: Felony.
  • Indiana: Felony.
  • Iowa: Felony.
  • Kansas: Misdemeanor.
  • Kentucky: Felony.
  • Louisiana: Felony.
  • Maine: Misdemeanor.
  • Maryland: Felony.
  • Massachusetts: Felony.
  • Michigan: Felony.
  • Minnesota: Misdemeanor for first offense, felony for subsequent offenses.
  • Mississippi: Felony.
  • Missouri: Felony.
  • Montana: Misdemeanor.
  • Nebraska: Felony.
  • Nevada: Felony.
  • New Hampshire: Misdemeanor.
  • New Jersey: Felony.
  • New Mexico: Misdemeanor.
  • New York: Felony.
  • North Carolina: Felony.
  • North Dakota: Misdemeanor.
  • Ohio: Felony.
  • Oklahoma: Felony.
  • Oregon: Felony.
  • Pennsylvania: Felony.
  • Rhode Island: Felony.
  • South Carolina: Misdemeanor.
  • South Dakota: Felony.
  • Tennessee: Felony.
  • Texas: Felony.
  • Utah: Felony.
  • Vermont: Misdemeanor.
  • Virginia: Felony.
  • Washington: Felony.
  • West Virginia: Felony.
  • Wisconsin: Misdemeanor.
  • Wyoming: Misdemeanor.

U.S. Territories:

  • Puerto Rico: Cockfighting was a longstanding tradition but was officially banned under pressure from federal law, effective from December 2019.
  • Guam: Illegal.
  • U.S. Virgin Islands: Illegal.
  • Northern Mariana Islands: Previously legal, but federal law now prohibits it.

Enforcement Challenges and Cultural Context

Enforcing laws against cockfighting presents unique challenges, as these events are often clandestine, occurring in remote or secured locations. Moreover, cockfighting is deeply ingrained in certain cultures and communities, further complicating efforts to eradicate the practice.

Animal Welfare and Public Health Concerns

Opposition to cockfighting is not only grounded in animal cruelty concerns but also public health risks. Cockfights are potential breeding grounds for diseases such as avian influenza, with the birds involved often suffering from severe injuries or death.

Ongoing Efforts and Public Awareness

The battle against cockfighting in the U.S. involves not only law enforcement and legislative measures but also public education and awareness campaigns aimed at highlighting the cruelty and risks associated with the practice.


Cockfighting, once a tolerated spectacle, is now firmly entrenched as an illegal and morally condemned activity throughout the United States. Through the combined force of federal and state laws, alongside continued advocacy for animal rights, the nation stands in opposition to a practice that inflicts unnecessary suffering on animals and poses significant health and safety risks to communities.


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