You have to wonder what the perpetrators of animal cruelty have in their heads when they brazenly conduct their cruel and illegal actions – often in broad daylight.
Earlier this week, HSUS staff and county law enforcement officers shuttered a den of animal cruelty. Together, we busted up what we suspect is a breeding operation for cockfighting roosters in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, just a short drive from our headquarters in Washington, D.C. On the property, set behind a farm stand on a main road and a ramshackle trailer, was a yard full of roosters, hens, and baby chicks. There were battle-ready roosters kept in small pens or tethered to the ground, their legs tied with rope, along with a large number of chickens running loose. We knew that the roosters had been prepared for battle because their combs, wattles, and earlobes had been removed. There were also many dead birds.
“These birds were bred to be fought to the death with sharp knives tied to their feet,” said Janette Reever, deputy manager of animal fighting response for The HSUS. Animal Control transferred the birds to a temporary shelter run by their staff who are working to find homes for many of the birds. Law enforcement charged one person with possessing cockfighting implements and birds intended for fighting. On Tuesday morning, the court set bail for the defendant at $1.5 million bail and instructed that if he is released, he is to have no contact with animals.
Altogether the HSUS animal rescue team, animal control, and law enforcement rescued 270 birds, including 95 roosters, 91 hens, and 84 chicks. Law enforcement also searched the property and the home and seized suspected cockfighting paraphernalia like gaffs, knives, and medications.
These cockfighters might have thought they were being clever by setting up a breeding operation but not fighting roosters in their state – claiming that they are just breeders. Some cockfighters think they can get away with shipping their birds to states with weaker, misdemeanor-level penalties for cockfighting, Even if they are caught in those other states, they think, it will just be a slap on the wrist and they can continue to ply their hobby. In this case, the perpetrator said he was sending fighting roosters to the Philippines, where cockfighting is legal.
These scofflaws are not keeping up with the law, which we’ve been hard at work upgrading state by state and at the federal level. In Maryland, it is a serious crime just to possess birds for fighting. And it is a federal felony to possess birds for fighting or to ship them across state lines or abroad for fighting.
We at The HSUS have a zero-tolerance policy for cockfighting and dogfighting. We’ve upgraded state and federal laws to combat the problem, trained thousands of police and prosecutors in investigating animal fighting crimes, launched rewards programs and tip-lines, and targeted the big players in the industry. We’ll continue to work with law enforcement in every jurisdiction to root out animal fighting and urge prosecutors to throw the book at people who flout our state and national anti-cruelty laws. Cockfighting is a disgrace – a throwback to an era when some people considered animals just throwaway objects. All animal fighting operators need to know we are coming after them in whatever dark corner they lurk.