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March 2, 2009

Sanctuaries Take Birds from Cockfighting Bust

Hens find safety in new homes

The Humane Society of the United States

  • A rescued hen perches in the sun at her new home. Chicken Run Rescue

  • A rescued fighting rooster gets a second shot at life at a Texas Sanctuary. Chicken Run Rescue

  • The adopters of the rescued hens all gave glowing reviews of their new companions. Chicken Run Rescue

by Ariana Huemer

The January 27 raid on a northern Mississippi cockfighting operation went down without a hitch. Collaborating with the DeSoto County Sheriff's Department, The HSUS shut down a suspected cockfighting operation, where 225 birds were being housed and bred for the fighting pit.

Searching for a Solution

While months of planning and collaboration go into any animal fighting bust, one of the hardest tasks is the disposition of the animals. Bred for generations for unwavering aggression, animals from professional cockfighting operations are usually euthanized because animal shelters usually lack the resources to house and find suitable homes for hundreds of highly aggressive birds.

But fate hatched a different plan for 95 hens and chicks seized in the Mississippi bust. Thanks to a small group of animal sanctuaries—United Poultry Concerns in Virginia, Chicowinity Chicken Sanctuary in North Carolina, and Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary and Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary, both in Maryland—the dozens of rescued hens and chicks from the Mississippi bust will live the rest of their lives in chicken luxury.

Sanctuary at Last

If it seems surprising that so many people would step up to the plate to save a bunch of chickens, it shouldn't. As United Poultry Concerns President Karen Davis will attest, chickens are loving, plucky pets. "They're as pretty and sweet and friendly as they can be," says Davis of her 60 new companions, who are joining dozens of other rescued hens at her sanctuary, including a rooster named Oliver, who's already keeping a watchful eye over his new charges.

Although Davis' sanctuary was already full, she scrambled to accommodate these birds in need. With the help of an HSUS grant and some generous volunteers, a custom coop was quickly constructed.

Over in North Carolina, Kay Evans, who operates Chicowinity Chicken Sanctuary, couldn't be happier to take in her new chicken friends.

"They are all very lively and appear to be happy. Betty (the smallest one) will happily eat from my hand," says Evans. "They like to fly up on top of the grapevine and up on the birdbath.  Some of the other hens have noticed them doing that, and the agile ones have started doing it too...They are a delight and I'm so happy they were saved."

Also happy to have the hens on board is Lewis the Good, one of Chicowinity's resident roosters, who has been busy keeping an eye on his new harem. "They follow him around and pay attention to his alarm calls when they're out ranging," says Evans.

The final fifteen rescued hens went to two Maryland animal sanctuaries—Eastern Shore Chicken Sanctuary, which is already home to many birds rescued from cockfighting operations, and Poplar Springs Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville.  

What You Can Do

With the second-weakest cockfighting law in the nation, Mississippi is a hotbed for cockfighting, which causes countless thousands of birds to suffer bloody, violent deaths every year. If you live in Mississippi, ask your state legislators to make cockfighting a felony.

Ariana Huemer is cruelty case manager for The Humane Society of the United States. 

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