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.
This weekend, at the request of the New York State Attorney General's Office, the ASPCA, the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office and the New York State Police, assisted with the removal, transport and sheltering of as many as 4,000 fighting roosters in the largest cockfighting case in New York State history.
On Saturday, February 8, the ASPCA seized 65 birds as a result of a cockfighting bust by law enforcement agencies in Woodhaven, Queens. Six arrests were made for violation of the animal fighting law. The ASPCA also discovered rooster carcasses that had been killed earlier in the night during the cockfighting event.
Simultaneously, police executed a search warrant at Pet NV, a pet shop in Brooklyn, resulting in the seizure of 50 roosters as well as other animals including hamsters, finches, rabbits and snakes. ASPCA responders found the roosters living inside metal cages in the basement of the pet shop, with physical alterations to the roosters consistent with cockfighting.
At both properties, cockfighting paraphernalia, including artificial spurs, candle wax, medical adhesive tape, syringes used to inject performance enhancing drugs to strengthen the roosters’ fighting ability, was discovered.
The following morning, February 9, the ASPCA assisted law enforcement agencies as they raided a 90-acre farm where as many as 6,000 roosters and hens were seized. The farm had operated for years under the guise of a live poultry farm, and the birds were living in deplorable conditions. Many showed signs of starvation and other conditions requiring medical attention. The owner of the property collected rent from rooster owners and blood sport enthusiasts in exchange for boarding, feeding and caring for their birds.
The ASPCA established a temporary shelter at an undisclosed location, where the birds will be cared for and housed pending disposition.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states. In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird at a cockfighting location are felonies, with each charge carrying a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a maximum fine of $25,000. Additionally, attending a cockfight is a misdemeanor, with a possible sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
We love to hear happy adoption stories, and we were especially excited recently when adopter Terry G. reported that Kona, one of nearly 100 dogs we rescued from a life of fighting in March 2013, is thriving as a beloved pet in the suburbs of Chicago. We cared for this special pup after assisting in a federal dog fighting raid spanning Texas, Missouri and Kansas, and we’re thrilled that she is finally receiving the love she deserves.
Please take a moment to watch video footage from our multi-state dog fighting raid in March.
Sadly, this wasn’t our only encounter with large-scale dog fighting operations in 2013. In August, at the request of the United States Attorney’s Office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), we assisted in a multi-state, federal dog fighting raid of an operation throughout Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. We rescued more than 360 dogs ranging in age from just several days to 10-12 years, who had been left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. Many were emaciated with scars and wounds consistent with dog fighting, and some were tethered by chains and cables that were attached to cinder blocks and car tires.
On March 24, the ASPCA assisted the Federal Bureau of Investigation, United States Attorney’s Office and local law enforcement agencies in a federal dog fighting raid that resulted in the seizure of nearly 100 dogs from multiple properties in Missouri, Kansas and Texas.
Yesterday, at a federal court in Kansas, justice was served. Two individuals connected with last March’s raid learned that they would serve time in prison, pay large fines and perform community service for their roles in the illegal enterprise.
Pete Davis Jr., 38, was sentenced to 16 months in prison and Melvin Robinson, 42, was sentenced to 10 months after pleading guilty to charges related to dog fighting. Davis and Robinson were also ordered to perform 50 hours of community service and pay $430,919 to the ASPCA for the care of the dogs seized. Both Davis and Robinson are also banned from owning dogs for three years following their sentences.
“The ASPCA is proud to have helped secure justice for the dogs involved in this case,” says Tim Rickey, Vice President of ASPCA Field Investigations and Response. “Thanks to the persistence of the FBI, U.S. Attorney’s Office and Missouri State Highway Patrol, these individuals are finally answering for the suffering they caused these dogs. Dog fighting is a horrific crime, and we encourage the public to continue to report suspected dog fighting activities to local authorities.”
On Friday night, CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 aired a special segment from our temporary facility for the hundreds of dogs rescued in last month’s massive dog fighting bust. The ASPCA, along with responders from The Humane Society of the United States and other response groups, assisted with the removal of nearly 400 dogs, and we are now providing care and behavior enrichment in a temporary shelter at an undisclosed location.
Get an inside look of the dogs on their road to recovery with CNN’s Gary Tuchman and an interview with ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker.
With your support, we’ll continue to provide the rescued dogs with the extensive attention they so desperately need. Stay tuned to aspcarescue.org for more news to come.