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Wisconsin Cockfighting Raid

Groundbreaking bust seizes more than 150 fighting birds

The Humane Society of the United States

  • Roosters were tethered individually to barrels outside. Ariana Huemer/The HSUS

  • This hen from a Wisconsin cockfighting operation was whisked to safety. Chris Schindler/The HSUS

by Ariana Huemer

Rolling up to the multi-acre property in a deeply wooded area of north Wisconsin, you could hear the unmistakable signs of a cockfighting operation: a cacophony of crowing breaking the crisp autumn air.

By mid-morning, law enforcement had secured the property and HSUS investigators moved in to assist with the investigation and documentation of cockfighting evidence.

Birds Living in Misery

What they found was typical of a cockfighting operation, yet still disturbing: dozens of roosters living tethered by their legs to barrels. Other breeding hens and roosters were kept in ramshackle wooden structures, wading in a fetid mixture of manure and mud, with little protection from the harsh Wisconsin elements. 

Many were caked in mud and had to struggle to pull their legs out of the muck that comprised their cage flooring. Most were living in isolation, their whole worlds limited to the confines of small wooden boxes or the lengths of their tethers.

Criminal Connections

At the end of the day, over 150 birds allegedly raised for cockfighting had been whisked away to safer quarters, and the David Janke found himself facing multiple felony cockfighting counts, and ten illegal firearms charges. An HSUS investigator had laid the foundation for the case against Janke a week earlier, when Janke sold him several birds at $300 apiece, reportedly for the express purpose of fighting—a felony in Wisconsin.

On October 27, Janke was arraigned in Waushara County Circuit Court for 10 felony counts of possession of animals with the intent that they be fought, and nine counts of being a felon in possession of firearms.

Already a convicted felon, Janke helped build the case against himself by openly discussing the bloodlines of gamefowl he raises on cockfighting websites. He even went so far as to publish an entire article about his roosters in The Gamecock, the nation's largest cockfighting magazine.

Wiping Out Wisconsin Cockfighting Operations

While Wisconsin isn't necessarily known as a hotbed of illegal cockfighting, this was nonetheless a substantial operation that allegedly sold fighting birds to cockfighting enthusiasts across the Midwest and beyond. Buyers could have tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars at stake in gambling on the birds' death matches.

Taking Janke down, therefore, became a priority for the Wisconsin Department of Justice and the Waushara Sheriffs Department in their quest to wipe out cockfighting, as well as its attendant social ills, in the state.

After taking an HSUS law enforcement training course on animal fighting in fall 2008, investigators spent six months building the case, and they were more than ready for the October 6 bust. Their decisive actions promise more of the same for any other animal fighting criminals in the state.

Ariana Huemer is cruelty case manager for The HSUS animal cruelty and fighting campaign