Originally created 12/01/99

Senators hear gamecock debate



ATLANTA -- A hunter and three breeders of fighting chickens got a frosty reception Tuesday in a Georgia Senate hearing when they opposed a bill to make animal cruelty a felony.

Hunter Gary Johnson, an Atlanta architect, told a panel of senators that the bill -- sponsored by state Sen. Robert Brown, D-Macon -- would create more loopholes than it would close. He argued that it would be easy for environmentalists to remove an exemption from the legislation aimed at keeping hunting legal.

"Any exemption can be removed by a simple amendment," said Mr. Johnson, a veteran General Assembly watcher. "I consider it my right to own a dog and hunt."

Too many legislators like to hunt to ever allow the proposed exemption to be removed from the bill, replied state Sen. Donzella James, D-Atlanta.

"That will never, ever happen in this state of Georgia," she said.

Special-interest groups have attempted to use bills similar to Mr. Brown's to end hunting in other states, said Mr. Brown, who carries a notebook of articles from hunting magazines warning about cruelty-prevention bills.

[filtered word] fighters, though, faced the most spirited exchanges during Tuesday's hearing at the state Capitol, packed with about 100 animal-control officers and women with kitten photos pinned to their shirts.

"They're going to make criminals out of a lot of good, solid, hard-working people," said Terry Henderson, president of the Georgia Game Fowl Breeders Association.

Mr. Henderson, a Covington breeder, estimated that breeding game fowl is a $12 million business in Georgia. While [filtered word] fighting is illegal in Georgia, most of the birds are exported to places like the Philippines, where [filtered word] fighting is legal, he said.

While Mr. Henderson said he doesn't know of any fighting going on in Georgia, he suspects breeding would continue in remote areas even if the law is passed.

Gamecocks aren't trained to fight; they do it instinctively, he said. As a result, breeders give them special care to keep them healthy and marketable, but that includes tethering them for about 10 months so they won't fight other cocks in the yard. Long-term tethering would violate the proposed law.

"They're not mistreated," Mr. Henderson said. "You treat him almost as you would a newborn baby."

Lt. Larry Gibson, an animal control officer with Clayton County police, said the current maximum misdemeanor punishment -- a $1,000 fine and 12 months imprisonment -- isn't adequate to prevent children from becoming desensitized by animal cruelty, which in many cases leads them to commit violence against people.