They're trained to kill. Some are fed steroids to increase their natural aggression. Most are outfitted with razor blades or icepick-like spurs. Tossed into rings, they slash each other bloody as crowds hoot and bet and goo oozes from punctured entrails and eyes. It's cockfighting, illegal in all fifty states. Louisiana was the last holdout, until 2007. A cockfighting ring was busted in Livermore on January 13 when a witness reported a derby in progress. Of the seven men arrested, two lived in Livermore, three in Alameda, one in San Jose, another in Las Vegas. Law-enforcement officers found 450 fowl.
But you can't call it a rescue, because "after the entire legal procedure, fighting cocks are almost always euthanized," says John Goodwin, manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States. Bred for ultra-high aggression, they can no longer share space with other birds. Claims that cockfighting should be allowed because it is traditional in certain cultures and communities Laotians in Wisconsin, Filipinos in Hawaii, Hispanics in California are disingenuous, Goodwin says: "The kind of people who promote cockfighting are not the kind of people who care about other cultures except when it's convenient. They don't have a lot to defend about this particular crime, so that's what they're stuck with and suddenly they become the greatest multiculturalists under the sun."
In past years, the San Rafael-based nonprofit group In Defense of Animals has facilitated undercover missions to expose cockfighters. In Arkansas recently, the group supplied one spy with a hidden camera. In that case, says IDA founder and veterinarian Elliot Katz, the spy was a former cockfighter himself and worked witht the FBI and state police to break up a ring. Forty fowl were placed in a sanctuary albeit in a kind of solitary confinement, each separated from the others by means of leashes and walls. "They all have their little huts," Katz says.
Katz notes that cockfights tend to breed other crimes, because so much money changes hands at derbies. Chris DeRose, founder of Last Chance for Animals, agrees emphatically: "Cockfighters have been getting away with horrific acts of animal cruelty for far too long," says DeRose, a Hollywood actor who portrays an animal-control officer on CSI. "Cockfighting is a breeding ground for organized crime, i.e. drug dealing and gambling. Dogfighting has garnered much attention this past year let's make sure we don't forget about the scum that cockfights."