Them's Fighting Words

Activists arm for battle with cockers.

It's not the size of the cock in the fight. It's the size of the fight in the cock.

And it's not the strength of the cockfighting laws on the books. It's whether or not they're enforced.

So says Ron Simons, executive director of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Alliance, who was at the Englewood office of the American Humane Association on September 8 to teach an animal-fighting seminar to about a dozen animal-control officers from around the state.

"Sometimes people come to these type of classes and want to know everything there is to know and be an A-number-one investigator. But I hope you see that you have a lot of work to do," Simons told his audience toward the end of a long day of animal-fighting PowerPoint presentations.

The discussion had focused primarily on dog fighting, but the last round centered on cockfighting.

Attendees learned everything from how to handle cocks to what they should request in an arrest warrant when they suspect cockfighting. "It has been a socially acceptable form of entertainment, if you want to use that word, and I think it's time we put a stop to it," Simons said.

Although cockfighting is a felony in 32 states, and 41 states prohibit people from even attending bouts, the spectacle is still socially acceptable, he explained. In order for animal-control officers to effectively fight the cockfighters -- or "cockers," as they're known in sports circles -- they have to reach out to their local police for more resources. Busting a cockfighting ring often may require undercover officers and vehicles, resources more readily available in police departments than animal-control agencies.

But first, the animal-control officers need to make sure that police understand that cockfighting is a crime. In Hawaii, Simons said, 25 police officers were caught up in a cockfighting ring. And in Georgia, a mayor was charged with cockfighting.

It's also important to alert the public -- usually so willing to call animal-control agencies about problems with critters in their neighborhoods -- to signs that might indicate birds are being raised for cockfighting rather than eggs or meat. Sometimes a cocker will hold a bird as high as his chest and provoke another to jump up, teaching it to incorporate flight into its fight. Another part of the training regimen involves holding a bird by the tail feathers and having it reach for a table to strengthen its legs. Neighbors can learn to watch for these things -- carefully.

"You don't want these people to know who you are; you really don't," Simons warned. "The public doesn't know to call, and if they do, they don't know who to call."

In Charlotte, North Carolina, where Simons is based, his group is organizing an outreach campaign for the schools, where they will plaster animal-fighting prevention posters. "We're introducing our kids to this," he said of the blood sport, "and then we wonder why our little boys grow up to beat on their wives and girlfriends."

 
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