Animal-rights measures on fall ballot in three states

Saturday, October 19, 2002

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Animal-rights activism is colliding head-on with rural tradition in Oklahoma, where voters will decide Nov. 5 whether to ban cockfighting in one of the last three states to allow the bloody spectacle.

Supporters of the proposed ban say cockfighting is inhumane and gives the state a bad name. Opponents say the sport, also legal in Louisiana and New Mexico, is a livelihood for people who raise the birds and is no crueler than the way chickens are raised and slaughtered.

Cockfighting became legal in Oklahoma in 1963, when the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a fowl is not an animal and is thus exempt from state law against animal fighting.

Specially bred gamecocks are fitted with razor-sharp spurs or knives. They are placed in dirt pits and often fight to the death. Illegal gambling is often the big draw.

"It's barbaric -- abject cruelty to animals," said Janet Halliburton, who led the petition drive to put the measure on the ballot. "It makes us look like a bunch of knuckle-dragging animal abusers."

Most Oklahomans have never seen a cockfight, and polls show the ban is likely to pass.

Outgoing Gov. Frank Keating has endorsed the measure, saying, "It is simply embarrassing to Oklahoma to be seen as one of only a tiny handful of locations outside of the Third World where this activity is legal."

However, a former governor, David Walters, opposes the measure, saying it would halt a source of income for some impoverished rural communities.

The measure on the Oklahoma ballot would make it a felony to hold cockfights, keep equipment or facilities for cockfighting or possess birds for cockfighting. The penalty would be up to 10 years in prison.

Oklahoma is one of three states with animal-welfare initiatives placed on the Nov. 5 ballot through citizen petition drives.

In Florida, voters will consider a proposed amendment that would make the state the first to outlaw the practice of confining pregnant pigs in small metal cages.

Florida ranks 30th in the nation in hog production. But backers of the amendment hope its endorsement by Florida voters will send a message to legislators in major hog producing states which do not have citizen initiatives.

In Arkansas, voters will decide whether to make the state the 38th with felony penalties for extreme acts of animal cruelty.

Opponents contend the ballot item could expose farmers, hunters and fishermen to unwarranted accusations of animal cruelty. The other side says the measure is aimed only at deliberate, malicious acts.

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