It's an underground, illegal activity across the nation and if you ask John Goodwin with the Humane Society of the United States, Mississippi is a magnet for it.
"This cruel blood sport is wide and pervasive in various nooks and crannies around the state," said Goodwin.
Goodwin says cockfighting is big business in Mississippi and for good reason. That's because he says Mississippi has the second weakest cockfighting law in the nation, just ahead of Alabama.
"There is a large cockfighting pit in Tippah County up near Ripley that attracts people from all over the country even though it's a felony to cross state lines for an animal fighting venture," said Goodwin.
While cockfighting is illegal in the state, getting busted is only a misdemeanor and the maximum fine is just $100. That law went into the books back in the 1800's and hasn't been adjusted for inflation, allowing the benefits to outweigh the consequences.
"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 at the state capitol are trying to change that. 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. Senator Deborah Dawkins is behind the felony bill and says it's because current penalties aren't enough.
People who engage in these activities do not seem to be taking them seriously," said Dawkins, a democrat from Pass Christian.
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.
Lawmakers also want to work with neighboring states to make sure penalties are increased as well so the problem doesn't just move across state lines. Those cockfighting bills are awaiting committee approval.
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