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May 17, 2009

Massive Cockfighting Pit Raided in Middle Tennessee

More Than 250 People Detained

The Humane Society of the United States

HOHENWALD, Tenn. — The large-scale cockfighting raid by federal and state law enforcement agencies of the Shiloh Game Club in Lewis County, Tenn., demonstrates the need for Tennessee's Legislature to pass legislation to strengthen the state's cockfighting laws. The Humane Society of the United States supplied the intelligence that led to the investigation and raid on this cockfighting enterprise.

The following details were supplied by 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 and 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 the animals or paraphernalia are moved in interstate commerce. 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.

"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. 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. Collaborating agencies consisted of District Attorney General Kim Helper and officers of the 21st Judicial District, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and Tennessee Highway Patrol. 

Facts

  • Tennessee, along with Kentucky, Mississippi and Alabama, is in the heart of what is considered the cockfighting corridor.
  • In the cockfighting corridor, cockfighting is only punished as a misdemeanor crime.
  • Common cockfighting practices include breeding birds for viciousness, drugging them to heighten aggression and fitting their legs with razor-sharp knives or gaffs, which resemble curved ice picks.
  • Law enforcement raids across the country have revealed that cockfights, which are frequently attended by children, often involve firearms and other weapons due to of the large amounts of cash present for gambling.
  • Law enforcement officials have documented a strong connection between cockfighting and the distribution of illegal drugs. 

Broadcast-quality video and high-resolution animal fighting images are available at video.hsus.org.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org. 

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