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Associated Press

Crackdown On Cockfighting Increasing

October 25, 2001
Copyright © 2001
Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- The driver had no license plate but plenty of chickens -- all of them clucking from the back seat and trunk. So the state trooper who made the traffic stop looked further.

Inside the car, he came across an ornate, wooden box decorated with roosters. Drawers on the box contained sharp, scythe-like blades and hypodermic needles.

The officer knew what he was seeing: The suspect was headed to a cockfight -- and jail.

Arrests like this are more common across the nation, as police become better trained and cockfighting laws get tighter. Twenty-seven states now have felony penalties for cockfighting, at least on the second offense.

``The busts are increasing partly because the penalties have become stiffer,'' said Wayne Pacelle, of the Humane Society of the United States. ``And there's a growing awareness that violence is violence; it's not just laughed off or excused that, 'Boys will be boys.'''

Cockfighting involves two birds equipped with metal spurs. The roosters -- bred for power, speed and killer instinct -- claw at each other until one of them keels over, usually in a bloody mess.

The state's Department of Agriculture has teamed up with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to educate troopers like the one who discovered the cockfighting cache on May 27.

``Cockfighting is animal abuse, and this would not have come to our attention had he not known to be suspicious,'' said Julie King, the agency's chief of food safety and animal protection.

The crackdown isn't just a question of cruelty -- cockfighting invariably is accompanied by gambling, drugs and weapons, authorities say.

An illegal cockfight in Escalon, Calif., erupted in semiautomatic gunfire in May when a man allegedly upset at a referee opened fire. The referee died and three others were wounded.

A month later in New Jersey, a raid in Bordentown Township snagged several illegal guns, 1,400 birds, syringes, steroids and spurs. Three men were arrested.

And tipped to a cockfight in December 1999, Illinois police raided a farm in LaRose, about 25 miles northeast of Peoria, arrested 168 people and confiscated $15,000 in cash.

``It was a pretty big production,'' said Marshall County sheriff's officer Mike Mayer. ``They had trash cans set up for throwing the poor birds in when they lost.''

Authorities in states where the activity is illegal need help, said Mike Percival, an investigator with the Montrose County Sheriff's Department in western Colorado.

Possession of fighting implements in Colorado is a felony, so Percival has seized 104 roosters in three raids in the past six weeks because fighting spurs and medication also were picked up.

But it's a different story if officers find just roosters.

``People are giving the excuse that they're not fighting them in that state; they're taking them to legal states,'' Percival said. In that case, he said, arrests are not made.

Cockfighting is still legal in three states -- Louisiana, New Mexico and Oklahoma -- but a bill that's passed the U.S. House would ban interstate transport or export of fighting birds.

The bill has failed previously, but U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., said more lawmakers understand the measure doesn't interfere with cockfighting in states where it's legal.

``We're trying to protect states' rights because it's the loophole in the federal law that makes it difficult for law enforcement in the states where it's illegal to enforce the laws in that state,'' Allard said.

But the United Gamefowl Breeders Association complains the bill would crimp what it says is a $1.3 billion industry in Louisiana alone.

``If there's no shipping in or out, then you stop the legitimate commerce that goes to the Philippines and Guam and Puerto Rico,'' said Tom Grove, the Illinois association state director who raises 50 roosters as a hobby on his farm near Dixon.

Grove, a retired electric company worker, admits he paid a fine when convicted of cockfighting about 20 years ago, and realizes he wouldn't get off that easy today.

``The law's severe enough now that you're foolish'' to fight roosters, he said.

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