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By The Associated Press

JACKSON — Cockfighting is big business because Mississippi has the second weakest cockfighting law in the nation, according to Humane Society of the United States.

John Goodwin, HSUS’ director of animal cruelty policy, said Mississippi lawmakers should make the illegal, underground sport a felony.

“This cruel blood sport is wide and pervasive in various nooks and crannies around the state … that attracts people from all over the country, even though it’s a felony to cross state lines for an animal fighting venture,” Goodwin said.

Cockfighting is outlawed in all 50 states, with 40 prosecuting the sport as a felony.

Cockfighting has been illegal in Mississippi since 1880 but it is classified as a misdemeanor and the maximum fine is $100.

“As a result we have a lot of cockfighters who have come here to take advantage of the weak penalties,” said Goodwin. “So basically, Mississippi is attracting crime by having a weak penalty for cockfighting.”

Several bills have been filed in 2013 legislative session. One would increase the maximum fine to $500 and another would make cockfighting a felony on the second offense. Mississippi is one of ten states without a felony provision.

Sen. Deborah Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, is behind the felony bill and said it’s because current penalties aren’t enough.

“People who engage in these activities do not seem to be taking them (penalties) seriously,” said Dawkins.

Dawkins would like to see a felony after the first offense but says the change has to move slowly.

By increasing penalties, Humane Society state director Lydia Sattler says she hopes perceptions on animal cruelty will change.

“People think that just because it’s a bird, that’s it’s not a dog or a cat, that it doesn’t have to be treated humanely,” said Sattler.

Sattler said a bill strengthening penalties passed the Senate in 2012 but died in committee in the House.

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