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Loopholes Allow Cockfighting to Thrive

December 26, 2010

From The Texas Tribune
By Brandi Grissom

One by one, Domanick Muñoz pulled bloody and battered bodies out of a pile of feathers, claws and beaks. Roosters that were still gasping for life he put out of their misery, plunging a syringe of drugs into their gouged and lacerated bellies. Those that were already dead animal cruelty officers with Dallas Animal Services gingerly placed into large, black plastic garbage bags.

Nearby, Dallas Police Sgt. Alfred Nuñez surveyed abandoned cars, empty beer bottles, boxes of razor blades, syringes, liquor bottles, marijuana and dozens of cages and makeshift coops with roosters inside. “This is one huge mess,” Nuñez said over the cacophony of crowing birds.

Minutes before, the Dallas police had busted a cockfighting ring in this working-class neighborhood in southeast Dallas. The fight organizers and dozens of spectators quickly scattered into the surrounding woods, leaving behind plenty of evidence. Dozens of birds were dead or dying. Others were juiced up on drugs, ready to fight to the death inside a dirt-floored pit for onlookers wagering which bird would kill the other first. Also left behind: a list of bettors and the box of money collected for admission.

It is not the biggest cockfighting ring these Dallas law enforcement officers have seen — Muñoz said this was a “medium-sized” ring compared to others he had been to. And it is far from the biggest one in Texas, where the blood sport thrives despite the fact it has been illegal for decades. After a year-and-half-long investigation, the Humane Society of the United States says it has uncovered nearly two dozen active cockfighting rings throughout the state. And that is probably just a fraction of the real total, said John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues at the Humane Society. “It’s certainly heartbreaking to see all these birds just completely injured and suffering greatly,” he said. “The fact is it’s just extremely cruel.”

While it is a felony in Texas to make roosters fight, it is not illegal to raise fighting game cocks, to attend a cockfight or to possess paraphernalia such as the razor blades, called gaffs, that owners strap to the birds’ legs to enhance their fighting prowess. The Humane Society says these loopholes in the law make it even more difficult to crack down on cockfighting. In 2009, a bill that would have criminalized such activity made it through both the Texas House and Senate. It was scuttled, though, in a last-minute parliamentary move by then-state Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, who resigned after pleading guilty this year to charges stemming from an unrelated federal public corruption investigation. Hodge said in public hearings she had concerns about how the bill was written. With Hodge out of the picture, animal rights activists are hopeful they will be able to pass similar legislation in the upcoming session.

Undercover Cockfighting Video

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Opponents of these efforts say cockfighting opponents go too far and that some of the measures would also affect those who raise roosters as show birds. It is impossible to know the difference between a show bird and a fighting bird, said longtime chicken farmer Richard Barnes of Weimar in Central Texas. “I mean a chicken’s a chicken,” he said. Besides, humans have been pitting roosters against one another for centuries, and passing new laws won’t make them stop. “I don’t care if it’s a show chicken, a laying chicken or any other kind of chicken: cocks will fight each other,” he said.

Making chickens fight has long been a lucrative and popular sport. It’s illegal in all 50 states and a felony in 39 states. The last state to ban cockfighting was Louisiana in 2007. Despite the fact that cockfighting could mean six months to two years in jail and up to $10,000 in fines for first and second offenses (a third offense could mean up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine), animal rights activists say the brutal games take place nearly every weekend during the cockfighting season in out-of-the-way spots all across Texas. The Humane Society’s undercover informants found cockfighting pits near Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and in rural East Texas. Their investigation found drugs, prostitution, gambling, hundreds of trained roosters strutting around with deadly gaffs attached to their legs — even parents who attended the fights with their children.

A Humane Society informant who asked not to be identified because he continues to work undercover discovered an ongoing cockfighting ring in Angelina County just outside of Lufkin in East Texas. This one, he said, is invitation-only. And it happens on a property right next door to a local sheriff’s department employee. The Humane Society provided The Texas Tribune with undercover video shot at two separate fights at the ring. The fight organizer can be heard telling the spectators that they need to keep quiet about the location. “Don’t nobody tell nobody else about this place,” he says before informing them that the next fight will happen on Jan. 16 and the entrance fee will be $200 for three gamecocks. The video then shows two men each dropping a rooster into the dirt-floored ring. Red and black feathers flare on the birds’ necks as they fly toward one another, violently grappling. One of the bird handlers yells, “Kill him! Kill him!” Soon, one bird collapses to the ground, flails up once more and then flops over.

Inside a Dallas Cockfighting Bust

Vodpod videos no longer available.


At this cockfighting ring, the informant said, the handlers attach thin needles to the birds’ legs that allow them to fight longer and bleed to death more slowly. Some fights last an hour. The video ends with footage of rooster carcasses piled in a truck bed.

In many cases, the Humane Society works with local law enforcement to shutdown cockfighting operations. Footage from one of their informants led to the raid in southeast Dallas last week. Four Humane Society staffers joined police and animal cruelty officers as they converged on the wooded site where a ramshackle brick structure with a dirt floor served as a pit for the fights. Muñoz, a senior Dallas animal cruelty officer, found about 100 birds, including 30 that were dead or hurt. The bust netted just a handful of arrests that day, none of them the fight organizers. Nuñez, the lead officer on the scene, said the bust likely would not stop the operation. “They might move from this location maybe,” he said.

In January, with help from the Humane Society, Parker County authorities nabbed more than 100 people during a cockfight bust. The huge raid made local headlines, but nearly a year later, Parker County prosecutors have only been able to charge most of those arrested with misdemeanor gambling offenses, said Jeff Swain, the county’s assistant district attorney. “As the law stands right now, there is not an offense for being a spectator at a cockfight,” he said. “In our case, all that we could show for nearly all of the people arrested was that they were watching the fights or gambling on them.”

Goodwin, of the Humane Society, said the punishment for being involved in cockfighting in any way needs to outweigh the hundreds or even thousands of dollars people can make from participating in it. “This crime is primarily about financial gain,” he said.

See More … Animal Wrongs , Compassion , Vegan Guides

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Dominique permalink
    December 26, 2010 11:48 pm

    I don’t understand why the Local or/and National Humane Society, with all their funds cannot accomplish getting legislation passed on this issue and many other animal abuse issues? I would love to get the guy’s that do this put them in a pit with each other and watch their Karma..


  2. PELLISSON permalink
    December 27, 2010 1:24 am

    I don’t understand how humans can do that ! The poor animals have any chance to stay alive ! It is crual and we must stop that !
    Animals are suffering during the fighting …and they are hurt !
    We must enforce the law !


  3. December 27, 2010 5:53 am

    Legislators that allow such loopholes should be jailed.

    But then, our very own state wildlife agencies are empowered to sanction/legalize brutal blood sports like wildlife penning, training dogs on live animals, even bow hunting is documented now as inhumanely allowing slow deaths, or “bleeding out” as they call it.

    All of this is because people just do not know…


  4. karen lyons kalmenson permalink
    December 27, 2010 6:34 am

    there is a wormhole in the consciousness of any so called homo sapien who would indulge in anything related to this bloodfest, including sanctioning legal loopholes.

    is our DNA so damaged that cruel and stupid are permanently hardwired into our double helix?


  5. Karen permalink
    December 27, 2010 8:17 am

    This is sick….How they there be a “loophole” when something so cruel and inhumane is involved? Tighten the damn laws and protect the animals from these murderous bastards ! End of Story !!!!


  6. LoVegan permalink
    December 27, 2010 10:19 am

    loophole?? In a normal world there would be no need of a law ! I am disgusted, outraged and tired!! “This crime is primarily about financial gain,” : this crime is abominable, criminals should be tortured!


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