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December 15, 2009

Cockfighting Raid: Cold, Muddy, and Proud

"Exactly what I am meant to be doing"

The Humane Society of the United States

  • The heartbeat of a rescued bird told Ashley that she was in the right place. The HSUS

  • This handsome rooster will never be forced to fight again. Ashley Mauceri/The HSUS

  • The chickens lived in filthy pens with little protection from the elements. Ashley Mauceri/The HSUS

  • Ashley photographed the rescued birds for legal evidence. Ashley Mauceri/The HSUS

  • Staff cataloged and cared for each individual chicken. Ashley Mauceri/The HSUS

  • HSUS staffers moved the rescued birds to clean, dry cages built just for them. Ashley Mauceri/The HSUS

  • A spacious poultry barn was temporary housing for the birds. Ashley Mauceri/The HSUS

  • That damp day was the start of a better life for this rescued hen. Ashley Mauceri/The HSUS

by Ashley Mauceri

I couldn't have been more anxious preparing for my first cockfighting raid with The HSUS. (The location, for now, has to remain undisclosed because of ongoing court issues).

On a rainy day, we drove from the sheriff's office to the raid site. After the local law enforcement deputies secured the scene, we began the process of recovering and cataloging the birds. The team was raring to go.

Discomfort and Joy

My task was documenting each bird with photos and a written description, for possible use as courtroom evidence. At one point, waiting for my co-worker to bring me the next rain-soaked bird, I started to shiver.

In that moment, the sad realization struck me that this was the life these birds faced every single day. This thought led me in turn to consider the thousands of pit bulls tethered and shivering outside at that very moment, as well as the millions of battery cage hens pinned on top of one another in factory farms, spending their whole lives waiting miserably to die. It hit me then that this would be the last day these rescued chickens would ever have to live that way.

We worked all day (pausing only momentarily to shove in a granola bar), and spent the evening in the poultry barn where the birds were temporarily housed. We took them out of their filthy, muddy boxes and put them into cages.

The first chicken I picked up was inside a blue pillow case, and I could feel her breathing heavily through the fabric. I imagined her inside that case, cold and confused. I took her out and held her tightly against my chest, knowing that human love was an experience completely foreign to her. To feel her terrified little heartbeat as it pounded against my own took my breath away.

Saved from A Life in Hell

Equally moving to me was the fact that not one word of complaint was spoken all day by anyone on my team. We were frozen, soaked, and exhausted—and yet none of that mattered.

I have long been proud of the work I do and the amazing people I work alongside. But there was something particularly special about that day, being there to help save 157 birds from a life in hell—and, for the roosters, death in the fighting pit. The experience confirmed that I am doing exactly what I am meant to be doing with my life.

It was, all in all, a day I'm never going to forget.

Ashley Mauceri is deputy campaign manager for animal cruelty issues at The HSUS. She handles calls to the HSUS's animal abuse tip line. This was her first raid.

 

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