ASPCA Assists in Forensic Evidence Collection & Removal of Hundreds of Fighting Roosters in Fort Myers, Fla.;

Lee County Sheriff’s Office Spearheading One of State’s Largest-Ever Cockfighting Cases
September 7, 2010

FORT MYERS, Fla.—The ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®), at the request of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Domestic Animal Services in Fort Myers, Fla., is assisting in the forensic evidence collection and removal of more than 600 fighting roosters from two properties in the Lee County area.
A search warrant was executed Tuesday morning for the removal of the birds, which were housed at two separate properties in Fort Myers. The ASPCA is also collecting evidence for the investigation of the criminal case, as well as lending the services of its Anti-Cruelty staff, including both its Field Investigations & Response and Veterinary Forensics teams. Staff from the University of Florida (Gainesville) College of Veterinary Medicine and Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at UF are also assisting.
The birds were voluntarily relinquished by their owners to Lee County Domestic Animal Services.
“The ASPCA was asked to support the efforts of the local authorities in this case, and toward that end have brought our expertise in animal fighting and forensic evidence collection to the table,” said Kat Destreza, the ASPCA’s Southeast Director, Field Investigation & Response.
“Cockfighting is a violent blood sport where the participants—the roosters—don’t have choices,” added Tim Rickey, the ASPCA’s Senior Director, Field Investigation & Response. “These birds are forced into being killing machines for entertainment,during which they die or are left to die a horrible death.”
The roosters were housed in elevated cages, inside wire fencing, and in barns that dotted both properties. They were transferred to a secure location where forensic exams are being conducted 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, are assisting, and veterinary technicians, animal handlers and volunteers from the ASPCA and Lee County Domestic Animal Services are also at both sites, which included more than 60 responders.
The ASPCA also deployed its fully equipped “Mobile Animal Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Unit,” a specially-designed vehicle outfitted with state-of-the-art forensics tools as well as medical equipment tailored for animal patients.
The seizure of the birds is the result of an eight-month-long investigation that is still ongoing, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, which set the investigation in motion. The sheriff’s office later contacted Lee County Domestic Animal Services, who in turn contacted ASPCA investigators.
Many of the roosters were allegedly being raised and prepared for fighting, during which such birds commonly suffer from injuries including punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes, all consistent with the knives andartificial gaffs—long, sharp, dagger-like attachments—that they are fitted with to maximize injury.  Often times, steroids or other drugs are administered to the birds to make them better fighters.Aside from being cruel to animals, cockfighting is often times closely connected to other crimes such as gambling, drug possession and acts of violence.
In Florida, cockfighting--as well as the offenses of possession of birds, being a spectator at a cockfight, and possession of implements--are all third degree felonies, each punishable by up to five years in a state jail and a maximum $5,000 fine.