Closure in the Cockfighting Corridor
The big news related to animal fighting this week is that Michael Vick is getting out of prison, and I’ll be blogging in depth tomorrow on how we intend to interact with him.
But the guiding principle in all of our work is to hit animal fighting in every dark corner where it festers. We attend to this task every day, and this past weekend, we had another major strike. Acting on information supplied by The HSUS, federal and state authorities raided a large cockfighting pit in Hohenwald, Tenn. The Shiloh Game Club was one of the largest cockfighting operations in middle Tennessee, as evidenced by the nearly 300 people detained during the raid.
© 2007 The HSUS/Guzy
At the scene, law enforcement charged 37 people for drug offenses and seized $30,000 in cash. The HSUS personnel on the scene reported some of the most awful cruelty they’d ever witnessed. A colleague who has been on cockfighting raids all over the country said he would never forget the severely injured roosters discovered that day, describing this as the worst of the worst. This particular cockfighting derby was being advertised as “long knife only,” meaning the birds were fought with three-inch blades tied to their heels. Cockfighters had approximately 220 birds there, priming them for a day of fights. One winning bird was found with a gaping slash under a wing, internal organs exposed. Other birds were found thrown under a trailer after being mangled in the ring.
As is typical of Tennessee cockfights, many children were on hand to witness this carnage, with one child wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with “cockfighting” above a picture of a rooster. Involving children in these spectacles compounds the crime and reveals the cockfighters’ appalling lack of civic behavior.
Thanks are due to the USDA’s Office of Inspector General for leading this investigation and striking a high-profile blow against this house of crime and cruelty. The FBI, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigations, Tennessee District Attorney Kim Helper of the 21st Judicial District, and the Tennessee Highway Patrol also assisted in the raid, and we’re proud to have worked with all of these law enforcement agencies.
Tennessee is a core part of the “cockfighting corridor”—the four states that see the most illegal animal fighting activity (Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky) and that possess the weakest laws. It is our hope that the organizers of the fights will be prosecuted under federal law, which carries felony penalties. Most of those arrested though will be tried in state court, where the maximum penalty is a misdemeanor. District Attorney Helper spoke about this after Saturday’s bust, telling a Nashville TV station, "The penalties aren't there to discourage people from participating or coming to view those cockfights."
As other states ratchet up their laws, it is time for the states in the cockfighting corridor to align their laws with those of other states—a top priority for The HSUS’s Animal Cruelty and Fighting campaign.
The roosters at the Shiloh Game Club suffered immensely. But the carnage exposed in this raid will be powerful testimony in preventing such cruelty in the future. Animal fighting is a rot on our communities and our values.