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August 6, 2009

Cockfighting Death Knell

The fall of The Feathered Warrior magazine signals cockfighting's demise

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Roosters have reason to celebrate as cockfighting declines in the United States. iStockphoto

The summer of 2009 has been hard on cockfighting enthusiasts in the United States.

First came a series of large raids and exposés on cockfighting pits in Alabama, Texas, Connecticut, and Kentucky, and now comes the U.S. Postal Service's announcement of its intent to stop shipping publications that violate the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The U.S. Postal Service has proposed regulations that will bar shipment of publications that cater to animal fighters—any publication that contains advertisements for animals being sold for the purposes of fighting, or advertisements for cockfightng implements. 

Three magazines had catered to the cockfighting industry: The Gamecock, Grit and Steel and The Feathered Warrior. Packed with advertisements for fighting birds and paraphernalia associated with illegal animal fighting, all three publications were contrived as vehicles to glorify and expand cockfighting in the U.S.

Precedent-Setting Legal Decision

The Postal Service's decision comes on the heels of a federal court ruling ordering the Postal Service to reexamine its policies on mailing materials related to animal fighting.

In 2007, The HSUS filed suit against the Postal Service, arguing that the Postal Service's refusal to declare certain cockfighting magazines "nonmailable" violated the Animal Welfare Act. In March 2009, the federal court in D.C. ordered the Postal Service to reevaluate its decision allowing the cockfighting magazines to be mailed via Postal Service.

On August 3, 2009, the Postal Service proposed new regulations to end shipment of printed matter used to promote illegal animal fights. These new regulations are likely to be finalized after a comment period that expires on Sept. 2.

Fall of The Feathered Warrior

As if the Postal Service's decision weren't enough to convince cockfighters their days are numbered, one of three remaining U.S. cockfighting publications announced that it would throw in the towel after over 100 years of publication.

The final, farewell issue of The Feathered Warrior rolled off the presses in July, as the magazine's publisher, Verna Dowd, explained, "We have been under attack many times throughout the years, but nothing to compare with this day and time."

One-Two Punch

The Feathered Warrior's woes had been amassing for several years. Dependent financially on advertisements for fighting birds and knives, it was hard hit by Congress' 2007 ban on the sale of such items.

The Feathered Warrior, along with The Gamecock and online retailer Amazon.com, was also a codefendant in a federal lawsuit filed by The HSUS seeking to halt the sale of subscriptions to these animal fighting magazines in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

While The Gamecock is still operating, it was forced to dramatically change format to eliminate advertisments for fightng animals, knives, and other federal contraband in order to settle that case. The suit is still pending with Amazon.com, but neither The Gamecock nor The Feathered Warrior have offered subscriptions on Amazon's websites for several months.

When The HSUS filed its case two years ago, The Gamecock and The Feathered Warrior were some of the top sellers on Amazon.com.

On Its Last Legs

The impact of the Postal Service's proposed rule change on the animal fighting industry, coupled with the fall of The Feathered Warrior and the reformatting of The Gamecock, cannot be overestimated.

Animal fighting publications like The Feathered Warrior prop up the animal fighting industry and maintain their criminal network by running advertisements for cockfighting implements and event schedules geared toward devotees.

If the popularity of animal fighting publications can be viewed as a barometer of the health of the industry as a whole, then it's inspiring to see The Feathered Warrior's 33 percent drop in circulation over the last three years, from a 2005 total of 2,545 to just 1,710 in 2008. 

Concurrently, the number of advertisers in the magazine dropped from 42 in March 2003, when The HSUS began tracking such statistics, to an all-time low of just nine in the final July 2009 issue.

According to the Associated Press, The Feather Warrior's Verna Dowd "blames the Humane Society—which has been pushing for the Postal Service to change its rules—for pressuring her out of business." Lamented Dowd, "They've passed so many laws, people can't even raise or sell their [fighting] chickens."

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