Murder Most Fowl

Cockfighting is banned in Colorado. But the feathers still fly.

Cairnes compares cockfighting to football and says the fans are similar, too. "You have people from all walks of life," he says. "That's one of the great things about having chickens. You meet people who are blue-collar construction workers and former legislators. You have doctors and lawyers and businesspeople."

But because cockfighting is a blood sport like hunting and fishing, the animal-rights movement has come after them unfairly, he insists. "It's not a specific type of person who fights chickens," he says. "It's just people who love chickens. It makes no sense to me that anyone would object to me raising a chicken and taking good care of it for two years and then fighting it. Why would someone care? It just doesn't make sense."

Animal Control officer J. Lopez made the fowl 
discovery that led to Francisco Javier Reyes-Garcia 
and Virginia Casillas-Deluicio being charged with 
animal fighting.
Animal Control officer J. Lopez made the fowl discovery that led to Francisco Javier Reyes-Garcia and Virginia Casillas-Deluicio being charged with animal fighting.

Organizations like In Defense of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States are full of people who care. People like Eric Sakach, director of the West Coast regional office, who's fought cockfighting for close to thirty years, testifying in cases across the country, educating law-enforcement agencies and even going undercover.

And the anti-cockfighting cause has made headway. In Arizona, for example, voters pushed through an initiative that made it a felony, and most of that state's cockfighters moved to New Mexico or California, where the penalties are not as harsh. In 2002, when cockfighting became a felony in Oklahoma, many of the sport's fans there also left the state.

But even in New Mexico, several counties and municipalities have banned cockfighting. And in Louisiana, the only other state where it is legal, a bill was introduced in the state senate this year to ban the sport. "I think we're going to see Louisiana fall within two years," Sakach says, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if New Mexico followed suit.

That day can't come too soon for some animal lovers. "Not all cockfighters subscribe to the use of hormones or steroids, but probably half of them out there do," Sakach says. "A lot of cockfighters subscribe to giving various drugs, some homemade, some bought over the counter." The most popular kind of drug contains testosterone, which increases muscle mass and aggression. "In combination with strychnine, or what's called Œformula of nux vomica,' it's poison," he explains, "but in small doses in poultry, it's considered an upper."

Sakach was involved in a case in which authorities confiscated a box filled with knives, blades, syringes and a vial containing a red liquid that turned out to be transmission fluid. "Birds don't have transmissions," he points out. "All we could guess is that the guy was using this stuff to poison his birds, and he had someone in the audience betting against him and he was cheating."

The problems with cockfights aren't limited to animal abuse. Sakach says he's been to hundreds of illegal fights, where gambling is prevalent and the crowd can become violent. "I think one of the more disturbing aspects is the presence of children brought by parents," he adds. "It's raising a generation of future idiots when parents are actually stupid enough to take their children to this, indoctrinating children with the idea that it's okay. You're just creating a future problem."

When the Humane Society battles cockfighting, it's also taking on the United Gamefowl Breeders Association. "In my mind, the UGBA is an organization of cockfighters who raise money, some of it through illegal cockfighting, and then use that money through lawyers and lobbyists to defend this largely illegal blood sport," says John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal-fighting issues for the Humane Society.

But Larry Mathews, one of the UGBA's founding members and its first president back in 1975, disputes that. "We do not advocate nor promote, nor are we involved in any illegal cockfighting activity," he says of the 15,000-member organization. Mathews acknowledges that the UGBA did lobby against Allard's law, but that was because the group believed it would adversely affect tourism, since people couldn't travel from state to state with their chickens.

"Our purpose is to cooperate with universities and veterinarian services for the health and marketing methods and continuation of the species of game fowl, " Mathews says. And game fowl aren't just raised for fighting, he points out. Their feathers are used for fly fishing, and without gamecocks, there'd be no Cornish game hens in the supermarket.

"I'm not involved in promoting cockfighting, I'm not involved in any aspect of it, I'm not qualified to speak about it," Mathews insists. "You can't stop them from fighting, and what happens in a cockfight is two owners let them loose to fight. They don't raise them to fight." In fact, he adds, it's the Humane Society that is cruel, since that organization often euthanizes the birds.

"There's no question that's more humane than allowing the birds to fight with razors on and be hacked to death," Sakach counters. "I think we have to remember who caused this problem in the first place."

While the officers confiscated the birds, a crowd of people gathered outside of Virginia Casillas-Deluicio's house. The elderly woman said something in Spanish to a younger woman.

"Why are you doing this?" the young woman repeated to J. Lopez, the animal-control investigator who'd made the bust. "You're Mexican, too."

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