On September 7, in what is being described as one of the largest cockfighting busts in Florida history, the ASPCA assisted with the removal of more than 650 fighting roosters, hens and chicks from two separate properties in Fort Myers. At the request of the Lee County Sheriff's Office and Lee County Domestic Animal Services, the ASPCA was on hand to help with the removal and sheltering of the birds, who were voluntarily relinquished by their owners, and to lead the collection of forensic evidence for the investigation of a criminal case.
"The ASPCA was asked to support the efforts of the local authorities in this case, and toward that end brought our expertise in animal fighting and forensic evidence collection to the table," said Kathryn Destreza, ASPCA Southeast Director Field Investigations and Response.
The seizure is the result of an eight-month-long investigation that is still ongoing, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Many of the roosters were allegedly raised for fighting, and were housed in small elevated cages, inside wire fencing, in barns and running loose throughout both properties. Gaffs—long, sharp, dagger-like attachments used to maximize injury—as well as syringes and steroids were found at the scene.
"Cockfighting is a violent blood sport where the participants—the roosters—don't have choices," noted Tim Rickey, ASPCA Senior Director Field Investigations and Response. "These birds are forced to be killing machines for entertainment, during which time they often die or are left to die a horrible death."
The seized animals—including 678 birds, three horses and two dogs—were transferred to a secure location where forensic exams were conducted on each bird by Dr. Melinda Merck and Dr. Robert Reisman of the ASPCA, Dr. Jason Byrd, Education Director of the University of Florida/ASPCA Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program in Gainesville, and Dr. Cynda Crawford, Maddie's Clinical Assistant Professor of Shelter Medicine at UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
"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 waddles—vascular areas that bleed easily—cut off.
William Roman, 54, was arrested and charged with animal fighting and baiting, housing distressed animals and animal cruelty. In October 2011, Roman pleaded guilty and 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 the cost of prosecution and, as part of his probation, to have no contact with animals for three years.
Pedro Lopez, 38, was also arrested and charged with animal cruelty, housing distressed animals, possession of animals for fighting and baiting, trafficking in cocaine, possession of marijuana, and the sale of marijuana. He has yet to receive a trial date.
In Florida, cockfighting is a third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in a state jail and a maximum $5,000 fine—as are possession of birds, being a spectator at a cockfight, and possession of implements.
Authorities worked to re-home any birds—including chicks, hens and turkeys—not used for fighting purposes. Because of their aggression, fighting history, and injuries—including alterations and scars related to cockfighting—all of the roosters were humanely euthanized.
"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," Destreza said at the time. "The collaboration of these organizations is a testament to their dedication in fighting and preventing animal cruelty in their community."
To learn more about cockfighting, please visit our section on Blood Sports.