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.
The ASPCA is assisting in the forensic evidence collection, removal, transport and sheltering of more than 60 fighting roosters from a property in Spencer, Indiana. Other animals including dogs and farm animals were also seized from the property. We’re assisting at the request of the Indiana Gaming Commission, the Gaming Control Division and the Monroe County Humane Association.
At the property this morning, responders discovered rooster remains and roosters showing signs of starvation and other conditions requiring medical attention. The roosters were housed in outdoor pens or tethered outside with no access to water.
The animals were transferred to a temporary shelter where they will receive veterinary care from the ASPCA’s medical team. ASPCA veterinary technicians, animal handlers and responders are also assisting on the scene and at the temporary shelter.
A search warrant, issued by Owen County Circuit Court, was executed Wednesday morning for the removal of the birds, as was an arrest warrant for Jeffrey Russell Pierce, 26. Pierce was arrested on charges of possession of fighting animals, promoting an animal fighting contest and possession of animal fighting paraphernalia.
In Indiana, cockfighting and the possession of birds for fighting are Class D felonies, each punishable by up to three years in a state prison and a maximum $10,000 fine. Possession of implements is a Class B misdemeanor with up to 180 days in a state jail and a maximum $1,000 fine.
The ASPCA is also assisting the Indiana Gaming Control Division in documenting animal related evidence for the criminal case and lending the services of its Field Investigations and Response and Veterinary Forensics teams. The Indiana State Police, the Indiana Board of Animal Health and the Owen County Prosecutor are also assisting in the operation.
“Cockfighting is a brutal blood sport where the unwilling participants—the roosters—are forced to fight, often to the death, for the entertainment and financial gain of their owners,” says Terry Mills, Director of Blood Sports for the ASPCA Field Investigations and Response team. “The ASPCA is proud to lend our expertise in animal fighting and forensic evidence collection to local authorities to help put an end to this disturbing activity and secure justice for the animal victims.”
Late last night, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee approved an amendment to the House Farm Bill to strengthen our nation’s laws against animal fighting. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), would make attending an organized animal fight a federal offense and impose additional penalties for bringing a child to an animal fight. This amendment is similar to the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, standalone legislation with strong bipartisan support from 147 cosponsors introduced by Reps. Tom Marino (R-PA), John Campbell (R-CA), Jim Moran (D-VA) and McGovern.
“Animal fights are cruel and gruesome spectacles where animals are exploited and forced to fight as their owners profit from their torture,” said Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations. “Children need protection from the dangerous culture of animal fighting, as well as its associated illegal activities such as drugs, weapons and gambling. The ASPCA applauds Representative McGovern and all our Congressional leaders for their continued leadership in strengthening laws to combat animal fighting and protect public safety.”
While clearing the House Agriculture Committee is a major success, we can’t declare victory just yet. The U.S. Senate’s version of the Farm Bill also includes the anti-animal fighting provisions, but both bills still must pass in their chambers of origin. Once that is achieved, the House and Senate have to reconcile any language differences prior to full passage.
We’d like to thank all the representatives on the House Agriculture Committee who voted to include the animal fighting spectator prohibition language in the House Farm Bill. If you see your rep in the list below, tell him or her thank you! You can find your rep’s contact info here.
Michelle Lujan Grisham
Ann McLane Kuster
Sean Patrick Maloney
Please be a voice for animals—join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade and we’ll let you know when it’s time to contact members of Congress about this and other important animal-related bills.
Great news for animals nationwide! On June 21, the U.S. Senate took a huge step toward strengthening federal laws against animal fighting by approving the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which had been a stand-alone bill in the Senate (S. 1947), as part of that chamber’s version of the Farm Bill.
This humane measure would make it a federal offense to knowingly attend an organized animal fight and would impose additional penalties for bringing children to animal fights. Violators would face up to one year in prison for attending a fight, and up to three years in prison for bringing or causing a minor to attend.
While organized animal fighting is a federal crime and is illegal in all 50 states, the issue of spectators at these events has not been fully addressed on the federal level—and laws against spectatorship vary from state to state.
“This measure would help law enforcement by allowing them to pursue and punish the spectators who drive the market for animal fighting,” says Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations. “Furthermore, children need protection from the spectacle of animal fighting, as well as its dangerous and illegal associated activities, including drugs, weapons and gambling.”
In order for the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act to become law, the U.S. House must add the same language it its version of the Farm Bill, which is still being crafted. The Farm Bill is expected to be finalized by the end of summer.
For more information on the ASPCA’s efforts to tackle animal fighting, please join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade.
It’s about time! William Roman pleaded guilty to four felony counts of animal fighting and baiting stemming from one of the largest cockfighting cases in Florida’s history. Back in September 2010, the ASPCA assisted in forensic evidence collection and removal of more than 650 fighting birds from two properties in Lee County.
William Roman and Pedro Lopez, were arrested and charged with multiple counts of animal fighting and baiting, housing distressed animals, and animal cruelty. Lopez was also charged with drug possession. A trial date for Lopez has not been scheduled.
Roman was sentenced to six months in state prison, three years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He was also ordered to pay court costs and cost of prosecution and, as part of the probation, to have no contact with animals for three years.
"These animals were exploited to breed and fight each other to the death," says Adam Leath, the ASPCA’s newly appointed Southeast Director of Field Investigations and Response. "We hope to continue our work in investigating these types of cases to rid the nation of this cruel sport."