If you take a look at the video, it’s almost surreal. It’s a holding and training facility for fighting roosters, with dozens of cockfighters housing birds there. It is now no more, thanks to a raid by HSUS staff and personnel from the San Diego Humane Society, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the San Diego Sheriff’s Office, and a raft of others.
© The HSUS/Milani
The HSUS’s Eric Sakach at the Oct. 13 raid in San Diego, Calif.
In all, there were more than 5,000 birds confiscated—making it the largest raid in U.S. history in terms of total fighting animals seized.
Our man Eric Sakach, regional director for the West Coast Office of The HSUS and a 30-year expert, was there, with about 20 other HSUS staff called in for the raid. Here’s what he had to say.
While operational briefings are designed to help prepare a raiding team for what they should expect to encounter, it was clear that everyone who participated in this weekend’s action in rural San Diego County was awestruck.
In all, search warrants were executed at 11 locations. The result of a six-month investigation by San Diego Animal Services Officers, the raid lead to multiple misdemeanor charges against 50 individuals and the possibility of additional felony charges for animal cruelty. At least 50 additional suspects are still being sought.
The enormity and extent of the two primary locations, where more than 5,000 gamecocks were being raised and trained for illegal cockfights, was utterly astonishing.
The main facility, which covered approximately 7 acres and housed more than 4,400 fighting cocks, was a confusing labyrinth of dozens of individual compounds where anywhere from 50 to several hundred birds were kept in a hodgepodge of individual coops, pens and cages. At times, the cacophony of so many crowing roosters made radio communication between team members almost impossible. Many of the individual sections were covered with netting and surrounded by plastic sheeting to prevent outside observation, and topped with barbed wire to keep out unwelcome intruders.
Maneuvering through the maze with our equipment and cameras was extremely difficult. It was a scene that could only be described as otherworldly and, at times, sickeningly real.
© The HSUS/Milani
An injured bird at a raided San Diego cockfighting operation.
While the birds in some compounds appeared to be healthy, we discovered numerous other birds living in conditions that could only be described as appalling. The putrid stench associated with the large accumulations of animal waste, stagnant water and the rotting carcasses of dead roosters was at times overwhelming. I couldn’t help but recall all the times I’d heard cockfighters make the claim in legislative hearings that their feathered warriors receive the best possible care. If only there was a way to preserve the stench for future court trials and legislative hearings!
In addition to the fighting cocks, a staggering amount of evidence was seized, including razor sharp knives designed to inflict terrible injuries on opposing birds, injectable drugs to enhance fighting ability, a bloodstained cockfighting arena, and numerous cockfighting magazines such as The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior.
With such a tightly coordinated effort on the part of the involved organizations, the mountain of evidence, and the commitment of the District Attorney’s Office, I’m hopeful that these cockfighters will be out of business permanently. The success of this investigative operation should serve as a harbinger of things to come.