FORT MYERS, Fla.It’s being called one of the largest cockfighting cases in Florida’s history, a sure sign America has a long way to go in ridding the nation of this cruel blood sport.
Over the past four days, the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), at the request of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Domestic Animal Services (LCDAS), assisted in the forensic evidence collection and removal of more than 650 fighting roosters, hens and chicks from two properties in Lee County.
The vicious blood sport has been “going on for centuries,” according to Kathryn Destreza, the ASPCA’s Southeast Director of Field Investigation & Response. “By the nineteenth century, people had begun to realize the brutality of the sport, and some states banned it. Thankfully, today cockfighting is a crime in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
But that doesn’t stop the deadly sport from continuing. A search warrant was executed Tuesday morning by the Lee County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) Special Operations Squad and Narcotics Unit for the removal of the birds, which were housed at two separate properties in Fort Myers. William Roman, 54, and Pedro Lopez, 38, were both arrested and charged with animal fighting and baiting, housing distressed animals, and animal cruelty. Lopez was also charged with drug possession.
The birds were voluntarily relinquished to LCDAS where the agency is working to re-home any birds--including chicks, hens and turkeys--not used for fighting purposes. Many of the roosters were allegedly being raised and prepared for fighting, when such birds commonly suffer injuries including punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes, all consistent with the knives and artificial gaffslong, sharp, dagger-like attachmentsthat they are fitted with to maximize injury. Because of their aggression, fighting history, and injuriesincluding alterations and scars related to cockfightingall of the roosters were humanely euthanized.
“Many of the roosters bore mutilations consistent with cockfighting,” said Dr. Melinda Merck, the ASPCA’s Senior Director of Veterinary Forensic Sciences. “A large number had had their combs and waddlesvascular areas that bleed easilycut off.”
Staff from the University of Florida (Gainesville) College of Veterinary Medicine and Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at UF were also on hand to help collect evidence for the investigation of the criminal case, looking for evidence of blood in fighting rings, analyzing blood samples, examining birds, and cataloging evidence.
“The ASPCA would like to thank the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Domestic Animal Services for contacting us to assist in this case, and for all of the agencies, including the University of Florida veterinary medicine and forensics teams, for their tireless efforts,” said Ms. Destreza. “The collaboration of these organizations is a testament to their dedication in fighting and preventing animal cruelty in their community.” Destreza added that the ASPCA's demobilization efforts are concluding today, but that the ASPCA will continue working closely with Lee County authorities to follow through on the case.
The seizure of the birds is the result of an eight-month-long investigation that is still ongoing, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, which set the investigation in motion. The sheriff’s office later contacted Lee County Domestic Animal Services, who in turn contacted ASPCA investigators.
In Florida, cockfighting--as well as the offenses of possession of birds, being a spectator at a cockfight, and possession of implements--are all third degree felonies, each punishable by up to five years in a state jail and a maximum $5,000 fine.