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February 13, 2008

Prepared for Battle

When one rooster delivers a gaff or short knife thrust into his combatant's lung in an enclosed cockfighting pit, the victim suffers—no matter if the staged fight occurs in a jurisdiction that allows or outlaws the practice. If locals cheer the bloodletting, the laughter and excitement do nothing to mitigate the pain and anguish and fear the animal experiences.

Roosters at raided Virginia cockfighting pit
© The HSUS/Guzy
Roosters at a raided cockfighting pit.

Cockfighting is a sickening, appalling, dehumanizing, indefensible spectacle wherever it occurs. Tradition and culture do not excuse cruelty.

The New York Times published a lengthy story today about cockfighting in the Dominican Republic, and reporter Katie Thomas trekked to the Caribbean island after Mets pitcher Pedro Martinez and Hall of Fame legend Juan Marichal, both natives of the country, appeared in a YouTube video pitting birds at the Coliseo de Gallos in Santo Domingo.

"We don't see anything wrong with it," the president of the country's National Commission of Cockfighting told the Times. "It is completely integrated in our laws and completely integrated in our tradition." The Times reports that there are 1,500 cockfighting arenas, or galleras, registered with the Commission.

The HSUS won't be silent on the controversy. Baseball players—especially present and future Hall of Famers—are role models. They have a major cultural impact here in the United States—a nation, it is important to point out, that is plagued with an epidemic of illegal animal fighting and all of the other illicit activity linked to this gateway crime. We don't want their behavior to invite or foster more participation in this barbaric practice. What's more, popular support in the Dominican Republic or any other nation for an immoral practice does not make the practice any less cruel; in fact, its widespread presence is a call to arms for us at The HSUS, for we have an active international program that seeks to extend the principles of humaneness throughout the world.

If the people of any nation viewed stoning women as an acceptable form of recreation, we would not hesitate to denounce it and demand its end. Even if they employed some people to collect spectator fees, and to clean up the bloody mess, that would hardly absolve us of the moral responsibility to work to stop this inhumanity. We now accept that human rights are universal.

Well, animal protection principles are universal, too. When we are talking about a recreational pursuit that causes such harsh suffering, it is not a close moral call. The conduct is demonstrably cruel, and it hardly serves some life-saving or other essential purpose. These nations, and the people participating, can do without it, just as they can do without dogfighting, bullfighting, and other spectator sports involving cruelty. The United States is none the worse—in fact, it is better—for having criminalized these practices and for the current efforts to root out this conduct in the dark corners where it thrives.

The march of civilization will eventually trample these parochial, cruel customs everywhere in the world. I am just afraid it will take longer than any of us would ever want to stomach.

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