Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be cockfighters. That's the inescapable message sent during a rather remarkable week of enforcement activities throughout the nation against illegal animal fighters.
Within the last week, there were at least six major cockfighting busts, including a two-year investigation coordinated by federal authorities that netted more than 60 individuals in a cockfighting and narcotics ring spanning from southern Oregon to Puget Sound in Washington. Busts also occurred in California, Colorado, North Carolina, and Texas, where authorities arrested more than 200 people for illegal cockfighting.
A bird seized at a 2007 raid on a Virginia cockfighting pit.
But the biggest news was the comprehensive sweep in the Northwest, where authorities raided 28 separate sites, with more than 500 law enforcement personnel involved in this case during its course.
“This long investigation and the resulting indictments demonstrate the close relationship between cockfighting and drug-trafficking in the Pacific Northwest. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will vigorously enforce the Federal Animal Welfare Act and the gambling and narcotics statutes in punishing and deterring this criminal conduct,” stated U.S. Attorney Karin J. Immergut, whose office is leading the prosecution (you can watch Immergut's comments at a news conference here). More than 50 people have been charged under the federal statute that The HSUS helped to pass last year, making interstate transport of fighting animals or cockfighting implements a federal felony. The authors of the upgraded federal law—Reps. Elton Gallegly of
California and Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Sens. Maria Cantwell of
Washington and John Ensign of Nevada—have to be pleased to see this
law having such an effect, especially in their regions.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of Inspector General—which did the crucial investigation on the Michael Vick case and which has worked diligently and seriously on animal fighting cases—coordinated the multi-agency operation. “As evidenced through this investigation, animal fighting can certainly develop into a large criminal enterprise,” said the Office of Inspector General's Special Agent-in-Charge James L. Mendenhall. “The OIG will continue to pursue substantive allegations of animal fighting, and will work in concert with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to that end.”
There is a subculture of lawlessness in the dogfighting and cockfighting world—with animal cruelty entangled with other criminal behavior. And it's not the good old days where law enforcement looked the other way, and where lawmakers set down measly penalties for animal fighting. The HSUS has been methodically strengthening state and federal laws against animal fighting—it's a federal felony, and a felony in the vast majority of states—and many in law enforcement, including the USDA Office of Inspector General, are taking their enforcement responsibility with the utmost seriousness.
The power of the state is being marshaled to crack down on animal fighting in America. That day is here. And the animal fighters must take heed, or face the consequences.
March 14: Four men from Minnesota were pulled over in Colorado, returning from California with 27 roosters in their vehicle. All roosters were seized and the four men arrested as these are believed to be fighting cocks.
March 14: Another cockfighting raid in California, this one in the Mira Loma area of Riverside County, led to the arrest of one person and the seizure of 113 live roosters, and the discovery of 7 dead roosters and a cockfighting pit.
March 15: The Rockingham County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina raided a cockfight, arrested 12 people and seized 12 live birds. Dead birds were found at the crime scene.
March 15: A major cockfighting raid in Navarro County, Texas led to the arrest of nearly 200 people. There were 300 roosters seized, along with $170,000 in cash. Again, there were dead birds at the crime scene.
March 15: Federal, state, and local agents raided 28 different sites and broke up massive cockfighting rings that stretched from southern Oregon to the Puget Sound in Washington state. Authorities made 63 arrests, including charges under last year's upgraded federal animal fighting law. At least 700 roosters, $100,000 in cash and 50 guns were seized.
March 16: A cockfight was broken up in Madera County, Calif. About 50 people were present, and all but two escaped. Authorities found 30 birds, including 25 that were already dead.