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 has been closely following the progress of the federal Farm Bill for months. This mammoth bill contains many complex rules and provisions on a wide array of issues, most of which you haven’t heard anything about unless you’re a politician or a farmer. Now that it’s passed, one provision in particular deserves your attention because it will make a big difference in the fight to end animal cruelty.
Thanks in part to the work of the ASPCA and advocates from around the country, the Farm Bill 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.
These changes send a clear message: animal fighting is so vile, so unconscionable, that accountability shouldn’t end with those participating directly. Anyone attending an animal fight is a participant, and any participation is wrong—especially when you bring along impressionable children or facilitate the events through illegal wagers and admission fees. No child should witness animals being forced to maul each other beyond recognition; or be exposed to grownups torturing animals mercilessly, gleefully, profiting from their pain. It’s not just a traumatic experience for them; it breeds desensitization to violence, abuse, and atrocity. That paints a pretty bleak future.
And if you think animal fighting is a rare event restricted to small communities, think again. You need only go back to last year’s major dog-fighting raids, one in March involving nearly 100 dogs in Missouri, Kansas and Texas, and another in August involving 367 dogs in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and Texas. We were proud to play a leading role in each, but we also know that for every fight we disrupt, many more go on undisturbed.
While we celebrate this law as a victory for animals, we also express relief for what it didn’t include: namely, a dangerous amendment introduced by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would have decimated state animal cruelty laws across the country by preventing states from passing and enforcing their own laws regarding the production of “agricultural products.” Such products could include farm animals, dogs in puppy mills, and even locally grown fruits and vegetables. Grabbing that power from the states would set a dangerous precedent and leave animals unprotected.
History shows us time and time again that where there’s money to be made, defenseless animals often pay the highest price. Thanks to our collective efforts, Congress took a stand for them, and for children. It may not be the part of the Farm Bill getting the most attention, but it’s the part best protecting the most vulnerable among us.
Following up on a promise I made to you last August, I’m proud to announce the full citywide rollout of our pioneering collaboration with the New York City Police Department. Rarely has the fight to end animal cruelty in New York City—or any city for that matter—been supported by such a powerful and broad enforcement partner.
The NYPD is taking the lead in responding to complaints and enforcing animal cruelty laws in New York City, while the ASPCA is investing significant resources to expand space and services to care for seized animals, including forensic evaluations, medical treatment, behavior assessments and backup legal support and training. We’ve already dedicated a new ward to these animals at the ASPCA Animal Hospital, including additional space for housing and rehabilitation.
All eight NYPD patrol boroughs, several detective boroughs, the Housing Bureau, and the Legal Bureau, as well as a number of assistant district attorneys, have been personally trained by ASPCA staff with extensive NYPD or New York City prosecutorial experience. That training continues, and NYPD officers have been eager and enthusiastic.
The result: a much broader, quicker and more effective way to protect and save animal lives. During the four-month pilot phase, the NYPD responded to more than 800 calls to 911 and 311, took more than 25 complaint reports, and made 12 arrests. More than 30 animals related to these cases have received care at the ASPCA Animal Hospital.
The citywide expansion comes at a busy time for the NYPD—they just welcomed their first new Commissioner in 12 years, William Bratton—but the needs of New York City animals just can’t wait. The roll-out to all five boroughs began operationally at the start of the year, and within less than three weeks, there’ve been 16 complaint reports taken across the five boroughs, including three arrests, and 24 rescued animals.
Bottom line: We’re already well on pace to saving four to five times as many animals each year than the ASPCA has done during any year in recent history.
Don't think of these animals as numbers, at least any more than you would your own pets. They include Hall and Oates, two underweight dogs living in deplorable conditions in a Bronx backyard; nine kittens rescued from a hoarding situation; and Hank, another canine victim of cruelty. Stories like these not only exemplify how the partnership is succeeding, they also illustrate the severity of animal cruelty and the need to elevate these heinous crimes.
Commissioner Bratton has shown tremendous support for this partnership, noting that “NYPD Officers have historically enforced laws to protect the city’s animals, and now the NYPD will be taking the lead role in investigating incidents of animal abuse and neglect citywide.”
We’re creating a lasting positive legacy for New York and New York animals, and hope the idea of unleashing existing police departments on cowardly animal abusers will catch on across the country.
In the meantime, if you see cruelty, stop cruelty. Call 9-1-1 for acts in progress, or call or click 3-1-1 otherwise. As I said last summer, it's your city. They're your animals. You can be their voice, too.
Some foreign companies look at beloved American horses—wild mustangs on the range, show horses, race horses, even work horses— and see only two things: profit and food. They want to turn these majestic animals into frozen meat products for Europe and Asia, with no concerns about the unconscionable cost on life, health, the environment, or the integrity of our culture.
Fortunately, this industry was blocked from slaughtering horses in the U.S. when the president and Congress, echoing the voices of a clear majority of Americans, passed legislation late last week to prohibit the use of tax dollars to inspect U.S. horse slaughter facilities. This protection, included in a major bipartisan budget package, effectively reinstates a ban on domestic horse slaughter for the 2014 fiscal year.
Two aspects of that last line are worth calling out: “domestic” and “2014.” These are significant because the regulation does not prohibit the transport of U.S. horses for slaughter to other countries, and because it must be reapproved every year.
Congress failed to include the language in the 2012 budget, opening the door for a return of horse slaughter in the U.S. Applications to open horse slaughter facilities were filed with the USDA in New Mexico, Missouri and Iowa and these plants came perilously close to opening.
The international transport loophole is equally disturbing. In 2006, two foreign-owned facilities in Texas and one in Illinois killed more than 90,000 horses for human consumption in countries like France, Belgium and Japan. In 2007, all three slaughterhouses for horses in the U.S. were closed, and several states have implemented laws banning the selling, giving and possessing of horse meat intended for human consumption.
But protecting our horses coast to coast in a lasting way requires passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (S. 541/H.R. 1094), bipartisan legislation that would end the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, once and for all.
Americans are overwhelmingly on the side of the horses. In a national poll commissioned by the ASPCA, 80 percent of American voters expressed opposition to the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption.
Opposing horse slaughter on humanitarian grounds alone is a no-brainer. The majority of horses killed for human consumption are young, healthy animals who could go on to lead productive lives with loving owners. These equines suffer incredible abuse even before they arrive at the slaughterhouse. They’re often transported for more than 24 hours at a time, without food, water or rest, in dangerously overcrowded trailers. Horses slip and fall and are often seriously injured or killed in transit.
Some erroneously liken horse slaughter to euthanasia, but make no mistake: Methods used to slaughter horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths. Horses are difficult to stun and may often remain conscious during their butchering and dismemberment.
Others argue that slaughtering horses in America is an acceptable alternative to shipping horses overseas for slaughter. They may be surprised to learn that even when there were active horse slaughter facilities in the U.S., tens of thousands of American horses were still exported to other countries for slaughter.
Consuming horse meat is actually very dangerous. Unlike pigs or chickens, horses are not raised for food in this country. Over their lifetimes, they’re routinely given drugs and other substances—both legal and illegal—that can be toxic to humans if ingested. And few of these substances have been approved by the FDA for use in animals intended for human consumption.
A New York Times article revealed the hodgepodge of drugs regularly administered to American race horses, and resulting food safety threats. And the shocking discovery of horse meat in beef products in the U.K. and other European countries certainly underscores the potential threat to American health if this grisly practice returns to the U.S.
Last year, more than 160,000 American horses were sent to cruel deaths by foreign industries that produce unsafe food for consumers. We should no longer be party to such cruelty. Horse slaughter is simply inhumane, whether here or abroad, and a lasting end to this vile practice is the only just solution.
For 147 years, the ASPCA has been a leading voice for animals, fighting for their welfare however we can and preventing cruelty wherever we find it. This year marks my 12th year with the ASPCA, and my first as President and CEO, and as I look back on 2013, I’m struck by three thoughts: How much we’ve accomplished in just a year, how much we’re poised to accomplish next year, and how crucial your support has been and will continue to be through it all.
Every animal saved is a success story and a worthy highlight, but there were a few key accomplishments that made 2013 such a year to remember.
Stopping Dog Fighting
In 2013, we played a leading role in two multi-state dog-fighting raid—one focused in Missouri in March, and another centered in Alabama in August—that not only rescued over 450 total dogs from cruelty, victimization and death, but elevated dog fighting to its rightful place among the most vile and despicable of human crimes. My congratulations and admiration to our many teams and staff who participated—saving lives and spreading the word—as well as to the various animal welfare agencies and authorities with whom we successfully collaborated.
The NYPD Partnership
In future years, we’re going to look back on 2013 as the first baby step in an initiative that transformed how animals are rescued and protected not only in New York City, but hopefully all across the country, where the full size and scope of city police departments can be applied to these vulnerable and victimized populations. The NYPD has always been required by law to enforce animal cruelty laws in NYC; with this partnership, they will now take the lead role in responding to all animal cruelty complaints in the five boroughs.