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MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Animal rights groups are calling on Alabama to stiffen the penalties for cockfighting, as a Verbena family faces federal charges for cockfighting in Chilton County. 

Currently, the punishment is a $50 fine. Animal Wellness Action Executive Director Marty Irby says Alabama has the weakest cockfighting laws in the country.

“We don’t want Alabama to be seen as the cockfighting capital of the south, and right now it’s leading the way based on the number of birds we’ve seen shipped to other countries and U.S. territories,” Irby said. 

Irby is from Mobile and says he’s spoken to lawmakers there about changing the law but doesn’t see it happening. 

“One told me if he introduced a bill to make cockfighting a felony in Alabama, cockfighters would come burn down his hunting camp because they were right down the street from his hunting camp,” Irby said. 

Without stiffer penalties, Chilton County Sheriff John Shearon says it’s not a priority for law enforcement.

“We have other places we need to be spending our resources — drug problems, burglary thefts, child abuse, crimes against persons,” Shearon said.

Shearon says the level of resources involved would parallel that of a drug investigation but with a penalty sometimes lower than a speeding ticket.

“Local agencies, we just don’t have the money. We have to prioritize our cases on the things that we do,” Shearon said. 

Deputy District Attorney for the 19th Judicial Circuit of Alabama, which includes Chilton County, CJ Robinson says he would prosecute cockfighting if any cases were brought, but he doesn’t see that happening with a $50 fine.

“You can go through a drive-thru at McDonald’s during lunch hour and that person’s probably booked in and out by the time you get your happy meal. It’s that quick. When you talk about that versus the punishment being a $50 crime, it’s just not worth the resources put into it, and unfortunately, our state has not made it a priority,” Robinson said. 

The last time legislation was brought was in 2019 to make the crime a Class A misdemeanor and raise the fine to $300, but that bill failed.