Yesterday, we worked alongside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to conduct the largest cockfighting bust in U.S. history, with a staggering 7,000 fighting roosters at a single location. Early yesterday morning, more than 100 deputies from the sheriff’s office, along with large contingents from the HSUS Animal Rescue Team, spcaLA, and the Los Angeles County’s Department of Animal Care and Control, descended on a property in a remote canyon in Val Verde, California, in the northern part of Los Angeles County, after a tip came into The HSUS about the vast and complex enterprise.
Our field personnel described a scene with almost uncountable numbers of roosters in cages or tied to blue barrels, covering the hills. Sick, dying, and dead birds littered the ground, along with shattered eggs. Thousands of crowing birds created chaotic and unyielding noise.
Our staff and veterinarians with the county recognized that many of the birds were sick with severe respiratory ailments, perhaps avian flu. In all likelihood, authorities are expected to euthanize the animals, mainly as a disease control strategy – a bitter outcome given that the intervention was made to save the animals and to prevent them from being hacked to death in a fighting pit.
This was not your normal operation, with 50 or even 250 birds tethered to A-frame huts or barrels. This was a massive cockfighting hub, with the facility housing fighting cocks from different owners. The operators of the facility divided the birds with slanting wire fences, so that the birds were segregated by owner. In short, they were renting property to house their illegal contraband, partly to reduce their risks.
We ran into a similar “aggregating” operation in San Diego County years ago, and that facility had a staggering 3,000 birds. This one was more than twice as big, despite possession of cockfighting birds being a federal felony and a state Class A misdemeanor. It is an enormously important finding, despite the painful outcome for the birds. Arrests should follow in the coming days.
Inside, along with the birds, were shanties filled with supplies and suspected cockfighting implements, like slashers or shot knives, sparring muffs, and drugs used to boost the gamecocks’ ability to fight. Law enforcement personnel seized firearms at the location.
This enormous intervention occurred because local residents complained to The HSUS earlier this year. Our staff, experienced in hundreds of animal fighting cases, contacted the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control/ Major Crimes Unit, setting into motion a complex and long-term investigation that led to yesterday’s raid. Our team has been at the site of the alleged cockfighting operation all of yesterday and today, and we expect our work to continue well into tomorrow. Earlier today, we participated in a press conference led by the law enforcement community to explain what’s transpired and what we’ve found.
Remarkably, the same site had been the subject of a search warrant in 2007 at which time around 2,700 gamefowl were seized. Several California counties, including San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, and others, have passed ordinances limiting the number of gamefowl that can be kept on a parcel of land, but Los Angeles County is yet to approve such an ordinance. It is time for Los Angeles county to forbid private citizens from having large numbers of roosters. No more evidence is needed for this overdue policy to be put in place, as a supplement to our strong state and federal laws against the activity.
The HSUS has a national campaign to eradicate dogfighting and cockfighting. We’ve upgraded the laws at the federal level and in the states, we’ve trained tens of thousands of law enforcement agents, we’ve penetrated animal fighting networks to bring perpetrators to justice, and we’ve given out hundreds of thousands of dollars in rewards to people who give us tips on animal fighting operations. We won’t relent in this fight because cockfighting is an animal cruelty enterprise. Our efforts here bring additional benefits to society, beyond preventing animal cruelty, by flagging people who are typically involved in other violent criminal conduct, such as illegal gambling, and other unsafe and dangerous and destructive practices.
We need zero-tolerance policies for animal fighting. These spectacles of cruelty have no place in our society, and until we treat them seriously, we’ll continue to see animal fighters operate brazenly, like this massive operation in Val Verde. It’s a grim reminder that in California, the nation’s most humane state as rated by The HSUS, massive animal cruelty enterprises exist. Eternal vigilance and diligence are the watchwords of our organization, even when it comes to issues that most decent and sensible people consider resolved.