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Barbaric blood sport

Promoters of cock and dog fighting are far more beastly than the hapless animals they goad into tearing each other limb from limb. Florida outlawed participating in and watching such reprehensible contests between dogs in 1976 and between birds in 1986. But it is still legal to own, breed and train animals for fights. Breeders in states such as Florida, where animal fighting is banned, can still ship them to other states and countries where such blood sport is legal. The Legislature has a chance to change all that this session.

Effectively, the loophole in current law requires law enforcement officers to catch people in the act of pitting dogs and birds against each other. But 29 other states have crafted laws banning possession of dogs for fighting, and 39 states extend that protection to birds. Merely owning a certain breed of dog or chicken would not be grounds for arrest under the Florida proposals. Officers would also have to find fighting and training paraphernalia in a suspect's possession. All legitimate hunting and farming practices are exempt.

The sadistic cruelty in these violent contests is breathtaking. Animals are drugged and abused to increase their aggression. Sharp objects are attached to the legs of birds. Creatures with no means of escape are forced to battle until injury or death. In some cases, dog fights can go on for hours.

These clandestine bouts are a hotbed of other criminal activity, ranging from illegal gambling to illicit firearm possession. Does our state really want its citizens helping to arrange such spectacles?

A change in federal legislation is pending. A Senate bill would stop shipments of fighting birds across state lines to Louisiana, Oklahoma, New Mexico _ the only three states still condoning cockfighting. (Trafficking in fighting dogs is already banned.) The House is expected to introduce a companion bill soon. The names of Florida's representatives should be near the top of the co-sponsors' list. Strengthening state and federal laws against dog and bird fighting will go a long way toward curtailing this particularly barbaric form of animal abuse.