Illegal Cockfighting in America; A Rough Life for a Rooster
Step Into the Arena
Picture this: you are born in cold, unsanitary conditions to a mother you will never know, and a family doomed to die. You are born a slave, and are forced to work against your natural instincts. You grow used to neglect and mistreatment in early years, and the future only promises more suffering. When you are deemed ready by your owners, you are forced to train in the harshest conditions in preparation for battle. And once that is complete, you enter a ring with an opponent, knowing only one of you will make it out alive.
While this sounds like a tragic plot to an epic gladiator movie, this is actually the life of many birds who are breed for the illegal sport of cockfighting. Although roosters do naturally fight, the people who run the cockfighting operations ensure that their fighting instincts are highly exaggerated. The organizers of this appaling pastime usually encourage aggression from birth, and use a deadly cocktail of steroids, hormones, and occasionally harsh recreational drugs to promote violent behavior in the animals.
The roosters often endure thorough training as well, and are made to run obstacle courses, treadmill-style training units, and often engage in practice fights with 'bait' birds - weaker roosters and chickens that are attached to the training roosters daily food supply. The fighting birds become desensitized to fighting after having to battle other birds for that day's ration of food.
A Fight To The Death
Once the roosters are 'ready,' they undergo unthinkable suffering. Their owners often pluck out their longer feathers to prevent them from getting in the way during the fight. Owners also cut the 'wattles,' or the hanging skin under their beak, completely off - without any anaesthetic - for the same reason. The birds are then strapped with any number of weapons, such as razor blades, knives, or scrap metal attached to the spurs of their feet. This turns their clawed feet - which are naturally used to find food and to fight predators and other animals - into deadly weapons.
The fights are usually catagorized by the style of the weapons, such as "short-knife," "long knife," and "gaff" fights. Referees are usually on hand to monitor the fights, which might range anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. The fight almost always ends in the death of at least one of the birds, and many times both animals will die depending on the severity of their sustained injuries.
But... Why Would Anyone Do This?
The main reason many people raise the birds and train them for cockfighting is one of the oldest in recorded human history - to win money through gambling. Owners and trainers ensure that their birds are the fittest and toughest they can be in an effort to ensure their victory in the ring, and bet on the birds most likely to win, often for a significant profit. While money is usually the currency of choice, there are many known cases where drugs or property were the collateral in the fights.
Harold Herzog, a professor at Western Carolina University, believes that the people who host these cockfights are generally not sadists or animal abusers, but rather people who just have 'morally complicated relations with animals.' He writes that most promoters of cockfighting simply do not believe that what they are doing is wrong, and while there are some individuals who argue that the animals simply do not feel pain, others most likely are content to ignore that fact for their own personal enjoyment or gain. The owners believe the fighting fowl "achieve some sort of glory" in a matter called '"self-actualization.' Herzog also points out that many owners feel justified in their actions since most of the fighting birds often live better lives than their bred-for-consumption relatives, who are often lame and ill from multiple hormone injections and a lifetime without physical activity. Therefore, despite the inevitable gruesome demise of these birds, they lead a more 'fulfilling' life than many other fowl.
Working Towards Change
This brutal pastime has been around since the earliest times in America, and is still very much alive in societies today, although recent legistlation has caused many of these events to operate 'underground.' Cockfighting is illegal throughout the entire U.S., and is a felony charge in 35 states and the District of Columbia. Despite the progress made to legally prevent this cruelty from happening, many cockfights still take place in private homes, outdoors in the wilderness, and even in some urban settings. Occasionally whole families take place, where even small children participate in raising and training the birds, and frequently are present while their own animals must fight to the death in a violent and gruesome bloodbath.
To help this cause, anyone can petition through the ASPCAor other animal rights groups to increase the severity and frequency of punishments for those found running cockfighting operations. If you know or suspect that this practice is going on, contact your local authorities. Remember these are living animals with feelings, and no animals deserves to suffer for human being's entertainment.