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Cockfighting Persists As Underground Sport Not A Sport
Cockfighting Persists As Underground Sport A Police Raid In Orange County Yielded Evidence Of The Banned Sport.
Jim Stratton, Sentinel Staff Writer
18 January 2005
The police report paints a messy picture.
Blood stained the floor of the 15-foot fighting ring. It splattered the spectators' patio chairs. It pooled in some of the rooster pens.
And in a trash can near the door, it coated the feathers of two fighters that had been discarded.
"The rooster on the bottom was dead," an investigator said. "The one on top of him had a huge chest wound. He was still alive, but barely."
The raid this month on what authorities say was an east Orange County cockfighting ring has put the spotlight on a practice that opponents decry as grotesque and supporters portray as noble.
Officials say more than 20 men huddled in a tin-roof shack, watching roosters slash each other with sickle-shaped blades lashed to their legs.
On the scruffy piece of land off State Road 50, deputies found more than 35 birds, a few scrawny pigs, 13 goats and a horse. They confiscated boxes of metal spurs and a notebook containing won-lost records. No charges have been filed, but the investigation continues.
The fights occurred in a sand-filled ring made from an above-ground swimming pool. In it, authorities say, were bits of flesh.
"We went in," Orange County Deputy Guy Kemp said , "and it was like something out of a movie."
Cockfighting has existed for thousands of years in hundreds of societies. Colonists brought it to America more than 250 years ago.
As recently as 50 years ago, the practice was widely accepted. The St. Augustine Chamber of Commerce boasted that the city was the "Southern center" of this "proud and honorable sport." Orlando and Tallahassee hosted tournaments.
Florida outlawed cockfighting in 1985, and in the United States it is now legal only in Louisiana, New Mexico and Puerto Rico. But thanks in part to a growing presence on the Internet, it remains a popular underground pastime -- especially in rural areas or those with large Hispanic populations.
In sheds and backyard pits, men, boys and a few women gather on weekends to watch and bet on the fights. The stakes, authorities say, can reach into the thousands of dollars.
Deputies say two men questioned in the east Orange County raid were each carrying more than $8,000 in cash.
Stopping the fights is tough because most American cockfighters are notoriously tight-lipped. Fight times and locations are closely guarded secrets, and lookouts are posted to watch for police.
In other parts of the world, those precautions are unnecessary.
Cockfighting is a legitimate sport in the Philippines, where thousands of spectators attend tournaments such as the World Slasher Cup. Meanwhile, the Peru-based World Association of Combat-Cock Breeders claims more than 10,000 members from 30 countries.
Supporters say they are protecting a 3,000-year-old tradition of raising the finest game fowl. Breeders can talk endlessly about a bird's lineage and the best training methods. They take pride in their birds, saying game fowl have an instinct for combat.
"We don't breed them to fight or make them fight," said Verbon Goble, a Lakeland breeder. "They fight on their own."
Goble has raised gamecocks for 28 years and is president of the Florida delegation of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association. Before the practice was outlawed, he fought his birds.
Goble says animal-rights advocates don't understand that biology drives the roosters to establish superiority.
"A gamecock would rather die than flee," Goble said. "He's no different than a soldier."
Their fighting spirit appeals to Bobby Chairez, a 34-year-old former Marine from Indiana. Chairez has bred roosters since he was a boy.
"I wish I could explain the pride one gets from going to a cockfight . . ." he wrote in an e-mail to the Orlando Sentinel. "It would be like going to a boxing match, and your son or daughter is fighting for the championship."
Owners say they treat their roosters well, giving them fresh air, good food and exercise. They say the birds stand a better chance of surviving a fight than a raid by animal-protection officers.
Seized animals are usually euthanized because they are too aggressive to be around other chickens. The east Orange roosters are expected to be destroyed. It's a grim irony that cockfighters are quick to point out.
Cockfighters claim they do everything for the benefit of their birds -- right down to the flesh-slicing blades attached to their legs. Goble said the blades, or "gaffs," level the playing field between roosters and don't carry the bacteria found on the natural spur.
"They're cleaner," Goble said. "They were designed so the birds didn't suffer as much."
Ultimately, cockfighters invoke personal freedom as a defense of their sport. Goble accepts that some people are "creeped out" by the practice, but he has a suggestion for them.
"If you don't want to see a cockfight," he said, "don't go to a cockfight."
Animal-rights advocates find that mind-set contemptible. They ignore the language of fight enthusiasts and focus on what happens in the ring: Two roosters, sometimes injected with steroids, are fitted with razor-sharp blades and placed in the pit.
Once released, they rush each other, pecking at their opponent's eyes and swiping with the gaffs.
If a bird falters, the owner picks it up, trying to re-energize it. The birds might be held beak-to-beak to reignite the frenzy.
Injuries include broken bones, punctured lungs and chest wounds. The losing birds often die and, like the roosters found in east Orange County, sometimes end up on a trash heap.
That ignoble ending, critics say, explodes the idea that cockfighting is honorable.
"It's nonsense," said Laura Bevan, director of Humane Society's Southeast Regional Office in Tallahassee. "It's people gathering for the sheer entertainment of watching two animals kill each other."
Bevan concedes that gamecocks are aggressive, but left to themselves, she said, they would rarely fight to the death.
Paul Siegel, a Virginia Tech expert in poultry genetics and behavior, generally agrees. In cockfights, Siegel said, roosters keep fighting because there's nowhere to go. In a different setting, he said, the weaker bird would probably flee.
"If there's a way to escape," Siegel said, "they'll just get the heck out."
The law today favors cockfighting opponents. Fighting is illegal in 48 states, and federal law prohibits transporting the birds across state lines. Last year, there were at least three high-profile raids in Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Indian River counties.
They came after a new law made it a felony to "facilitate animal fighting" in any way. Even attending a fight is a crime.
Ocoee resident Jose Lopez said he didn't know that. Lopez and his brother, Antonio, went to the east Orange County fights. Such fights are common in his homeland of Mexico, he said, and he thought they were permitted here.
Lopez said friends took them to the fights. He said when a sheriff's helicopter flew over the shed, everyone bolted for the door.
"In Mexico, nobody gets in the way of cockfighting," said the 24-year-old construction worker, "so we are learning that here it's different."
Lopez said he doesn't attend fights to "see animals suffer." He goes, he said, because it's one of his country's "traditions."
It's an ancient tradition with a modern twist. Cockfighters have gone global, using the Internet to chat, trade advice and buy products.
With a few mouse clicks, they can order fight DVDs, gaffs and supplies such as "Rooster Booster" or "Aminoplex Injectable: The No. 1 selling conditioning agent throughout the world of cocking!"
The Web offers anonymity and massive reach. It's the perfect forum to seek solace and deliver a defiant message to critics. Soon after the east Orange raid, this note appeared on the Pit Master Web site:
"Sad news for the spineless jellyfish (animal rights advocates). . . (Cockfighting) is an increasing sport. One that is old as Methuselah. A carrot juice breakfast and a veggie salad for lunch is not going to change a thing. I think I'll dump the peas and take another slice of that red meat . . ."
Victor Manuel Ramos of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Not A Sport
Our position: Heinous cockfighting cannot be defended as a cultural tradition.
20 January 2005
Cockfighting defenders often say the sport is a cultural tradition. And it's true that the thousands-year-old sport is found in Latin America and elsewhere.
But "tradition" is a weak excuse for so heinous a sport, one that pumps up roosters with steroids and outfits their claws with blades so they can fight to the death.
If that is the basis for a tradition, then it's a custom not worth keeping. Cockfighting is a cruel sport that has gone on far too long. From Volusia to Polk County, police have arrested ringleaders, trainers and participants in this illegal game as people vainly try to hang on to tradition.
What's needed is a ray of light in this arena of darkness. People need to educate themselves about the true nature of this sport, which really is no sport or tradition at all.