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May 18, 2009

Tennessee Cockfighting Bust

Authorities filed cockfighting and narcotics charges against 236 people

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Investigators found dead and injured birds. Chad Sisneros/The HSUS.

A large-scale cockfighting raid at the Shiloh Game Club in Lewis County, Tenn., on Saturday highlighted the need for stronger animal fighting legislation in Tennessee.

The Humane Society of the United States supplied the intelligence that led federal and state law enforcement agencies to investigate and raid this cockfighting enterprise.

According to the office of Kim R. Helper, district attorney for the 21st Judicial District:


  • An estimated 250 to 300 people were present at the Saturday cockfights.
  • More than 236 people were charged for being spectators at a cockfighting event.
  • Thirty-seven people were charged with narcotics-related offenses.
  • Approximately 50 others have pending cockfighting charges. 

Most participants and spectators were charged with crimes under Tennessee state law; however, some organizers of the fights could potentially be charged with federal crimes. Cockfighting is a misdemeanor under Tennessee state law, but is a federal felony when interstate commerce is affected.

Many cars at the cockfight had license plates from Alabama, Georgia and Texas, indicating that a large percentage crossed state lines with the intent to participate in an animal fight.

The birds were fighting with 3-inch knives tied to their heels. An HSUS investigator found one bird who was still alive with his intestines hanging out from a knife wound.

Cruelty and Other Crimes

Animal fighting often keeps company with other criminal behavior, including gambling and exposing children to cruelty.

A number of children attended the cockfight. An HSUS investigator saw one child, about four years old, wearing a t-shirt that said "cockfighting."

He also estimated that more than 10 percent of the people present were carrying narcotics.

Authorities seized over $30,000 in prize money, and many people had large amounts of cash for betting. 

The Need for Tougher Laws

"Cockfighting is a cruel blood sport in which two birds have razor-sharp knives tied to their legs and are forced to fight to the death," said LeighAnn McCollum, Tennessee state director for The Humane Society of the United States.

"Despite some progress with pending legislation, our state lawmakers have failed to pass meaningful laws to help end the despicable spectacle of cockfighting in Tennessee, she said. "Fortunately, the USDA is attempting to bring more meaningful federal charges against the principal figures involved in this criminal operation."

This raid was a multi-agency partnership lead by the United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General. District Attorney General Kim Helper and officers of the 21st Judicial District, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Tennessee Highway Patrol also collaborated on the case. 

While this bust is a significant disruption for area cockfighters, everyone arrested at the Shiloh Game Club will be charged with mere misdemeanors. Tennessee is one of 12 states that has not yet made cockfighting a felony.

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