This past weekend, I had the privilege to be among the ASPCA team assisting New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and New York State's Organized Crime Task Force (OCTF) in the execution of the largest cockfighting takedown in New York State history, and among the largest in United States history.
The ASPCA's Field Investigations and Response team is leading the removal of the animals, as well as identifying and documenting forensic evidence. We also established a temporary shelter at an undisclosed location to house and care for the animals.
On Saturday night, I was at the gruesome scene of the raided cockfights in Queens, New York, where we removed 65 birds. The basement was small and dirty, and seemed permanently haunted by the atrocities it had housed for many years. This cockfighting ring had been holding bimonthly events there since May. That same night, another 50 birds were removed from a Brooklyn pet shop.
The massive show of force on display was awe-inspiring. That the state committed such intense resources sends a strong message to the entire bloodsport industry about the appropriate seriousness with which it considers these crimes.
As horrific as these scenes get, it's important for those of us in animal advocacy to see with our own eyes the depth of man's cruelty towards defenseless animals. No one falls into cockfighting or just shows up at a cockfight by chance. Whether you're participating, refereeing, or just watching, it's a malicious, unconscionable, criminal act.
I knew there were only two reasons for cockfighting: sadism and greed. But as I stood in that dank Queens subterranean room, surrounded by a palpable atmosphere of death and suffering, I realized the two are linked at their core. The greed is inherently sadistic; the sadism is fed and magnified by greed.
Owners and spectators placed bets on the outcomes of the fights, with individual wagers reaching $10,000. These fights, which began in the evening and lasted into early morning hours, pitted dozens of roosters against one another in battles to the death. Often in such cases, the roosters are injected or fed drugs to enhance their performance, mutilated without anesthesia, and forced to wear sharp weapons intended to inflict maximum injury in the pit. Injuries we see include punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes. Win or lose, the inevitable result is agonizing death.
On Sunday morning, OCTF investigators, with the help of the Ulster County Sheriff's Office, State Police and other local law enforcement, raided a 90-acre farm in Plattekill. There, the ASPCA recovered approximately 4,000 more birds, belonging to rooster owners from all over the Northeast, including New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
These arrests and the enormous number of animal seized should open some eyes to the modern face of this abhorrent crime; it's both more prevalent and more savage than most dare to think.
While there are obvious differences between roosters and more typical companion animals, let there be no mistake in our position, or weakening of our resolve: Cockfighting is a very serious crime, and an example of animal cruelty at its most heinous and deplorable. No animal should be forced to fight for human amusement and profit.
It's encouraging to know that most people agree on this issue, and stand united to ending the brutality, whether it takes place on a rural farm, a city pet shop, a residential basement, or anywhere else.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, and punishable as a felony in 40 states. The possession of birds for fighting is prohibited in 38 states, and being a spectator is illegal in 43 states.
We were happy to see that the Farm Bill signed by President Obama last week includes a measure to strengthen federal animal fighting laws by making attending an animal fight a federal offense. It also imposes additional penalties for bringing a child to an animal fight.
Still, while this weekend's efforts removed thousands of roosters and hens from cruel abuse, there are many thousands of animals out there suffering the same sad fate.
The ASPCA will continue to partner with law enforcement, champion anti-cruelty legislation, and be present on the front lines to ensure that we're doing all we can to end the brutality, including prosecuting participants to the fullest extent of the law.
Doing less would not only leave animals unprotected, but would signal to society that certain forms of abject cruelty are conscionable, that we don't care about desensitizing our society—and our children— to despicable animal abuse.
We can't let that happen, and this strong collaborative act of investigation, intervention and enforcement is a loud step toward our shared goal of wiping out cockfighting in this country. You can help us take the next step by sharing this story with friends, neighbors, colleagues, and state or federal representatives.
Recently, we told you the story of Callie. Abandoned in a frozen van, Callie was left for dead until the ASPCA and NYPD rescued her. While we were thrilled to report that Callie’s story had a happy ending (she was adopted by the same police officer who found her), it got us thinking about animal abandonment. Though not discussed as often as other, more overt forms of animal cruelty, abandonment is a serious issue. To help understand what abandonment is, how it’s dealt with, and what you can do to help, we’ve answered some of the most Frequently Asked Questions.
What Is Animal Abandonment?
Abandonment laws differ by state, but generally speaking, abandonment happens when an owner or temporary caretaker of an animal leaves that animal in a public or private place (inside or outside) without intending to return for it and without making provision for its continued care.
How Many Animals Are Abandoned Each Year?
Because there is no national reporting requirement for animal abuse, there is no way to track the number of abandoned animals each year. However, we do know 6-8 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide every year. This number includes animals abandoned on the street (found animals) and animals seized after private abandonment in homes or apartments.
Is Animal Abandonment A Crime?
Most states have laws making abandonment of an animal unlawful. It is sometimes a component of cruelty laws, though some states like New York treat it as a separate offense. In New York, it is a Class A misdemeanor.
What Are the Consequences for Animal Abandonment?
Consequences vary nationwide. In New York, it is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1000. Visit our complete list of animal abandonment laws by state. If an abandoned animal is found to be sick, injured or dead, cruelty charges may also be appropriate. In these circumstances, forensic veterinary work may be helpful.
How Are Abandonment Laws Enforced?
Due to the nature of the crime, it is often difficult to identify and locate the owner or caretaker who has abandoned the animal. ID tags and microchips can sometimes help identify the responsibility party. Unfortunately, there are many instances where owners cannot readily be found and charged for abandonment.
What Can I Do To Help?
If you suspect animal abandonment, contact the police or appropriate law enforcement agency in your area. Visit our Fight Cruelty Page for a list of contacts in each state.
The U.S. Senate has just passed the Farm Bill, a huge piece of federal legislation that is renewed every five years. While many parts of the Farm Bill time out after five years, other included provisions are enrolled into U.S. law permanently—and this year, that includes a new measure that is going to be a game-changer in our efforts to end animal fighting.
Congress added crucial elements of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act into the Farm Bill, making it a federal offense to knowingly attend an organized animal fight and imposing additional penalties for bringing a child to animal fights. Violators face up to one year in prison for attending a fight and up to three years in prison for bringing a child to a fight.
The House- and Senate-passed Farm Bill excludes the dangerous King Amendment.
The Farm Bill will now be transmitted to President Obama, who has indicated that he will sign it quickly.
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In April 2013, the ASPCA Field Investigation Response (FIR) team responded to a call in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. Not knowing what to expect, they arrived at the scene to find an aggressive rodeo bull, a determined police chief, and an extreme challenge. After years of living in substandard conditions, the bull had developed behavioral issues, and Police Chief David Smetana concluded that the animal should be shot.
After a heated discussion with Smetana, FIR Director Kyle Held was granted access to the bull. Under surveillance of several armed police officers, Kyle evaluated the animal and concluded that he should be placed in a new home—not killed. “We arrived at the scene at 8am,” says Kyle. “At 11am, we were given three hours to find the bull a new home.”
With the clock ticking, Kyle pulled out all the stops. “I called everyone and their brother on this one,” he says. “At 1:45, we finally found a couple of farmers that run a cattle breeding operation and were not at all scared to take the bull for temporary placement.”
With the location secured, the team now had to tranquilize the bull for transportation. Kyle called on two local veterinarians, both of whom had initially supported the Police Chief’s plan to kill the bull, for help. He says, “We not only convinced them to change their opinions, but to assist in our rescue.” It took the two vets three tranquilizer darts to get the bull calm enough for handling.
Next, under more armed police protection, the FIR team transported the bull to a waiting trailer using equipment supplied by the local highway department. Once in the trailer, the bull was medically evaluated and it was discovered that a botched castration had left him with one testicle. “That’s how we came to call him Uno the bull,” Kyle remembers. Uno was then monitored until he was awake enough to stand. The 3 hour trip to the placement farm went off without a hitch.
Uno stayed at the temporary property in Wisconsin for a few weeks until the FIR team could make arrangements for a permanent residence. He was eventually transferred to the Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, where he received a proper home—and a proper castration. Uno is now stress-free and loving life.
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Last fall, NYPD patrol officers responded to a 311 call and found two underweight dogs living in deplorable conditions in a Bronx backyard. The officers brought the dogs, Hall and Oates, to the ASPCA Animal Hospital, where our veterinarians treated them. The owner was arrested and charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty.
Hall and Oates were part of the first group of animals to benefit from a new partnership between the ASPCA and the NYPD. With this groundbreaking collaboration, which started with a pilot phase in the Bronx in September 2013, the NYPD will now take the lead role in responding to all animal cruelty complaints in NYC’s five boroughs. The change—given the NYPD’s tens of thousands of officers across 77 precincts—will allow for a swift response to abuse complaints and expedite the ASPCA’s treatment and rehabilitation of abused animals.
In the first several months of the partnership, the NYPD received nearly 800 hundred calls from the public about suspected cruelty. Twelve arrests were made, and more than 30 animals were treated at the ASPCA.
The arresting officer in Hall and Oates’ case was moved by the experience. “I am going to look further into this matter and try to make a change,” the officer said at the time. “A lot of officers are interested in what I did today.”
If you live in New York City and witness animal cruelty, please call 311 (or 911 for crimes in progress) to notify the NYPD. To learn how to report cruelty in your state, please visit our Reporting Cruelty FAQ.