We are advocating for legislation in the remaining 11 states that don’t have laws prohibiting the possession, training or sale of birds for fighting. In both the U.S. and internationally, the sale of birds for fighting is big business. It is not uncommon for gamefowl breeders to make hundreds of thousands of dollars from their criminal gamefowl breeding operations, often using the U.S. Postal Service to illegally ship birds.
We are focusing on many states across the Southeast—such as Kentucky, North Carolina and Georgia—encompassing what federal drug enforcement authorities call the nation’s “cockfighting corridor.” Georgia is also a priority for us because it is the only state without a specific law against cockfighting.
Amazingly enough, defending laws that crack down on such cruelty isn’t as easy as we’d hope. In Oklahoma, cockfighters have formed a political action committee to roll back meaningful penalties for all cockfighting-related activities; the PAC has contributed nearly $40,000 to Oklahoma state and federal candidates during the 2022 elections. We prevented three attempts to weaken the state cockfighting law this year, but the cockfighters were in the Oklahoma state capitol lobbying legislators as hard as we were, and we know they’ll be back next year.
Just this year, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General brought notorious animal fighters in four states to justice: “Chicken Joe” in California, operators of three large cockfighting venues in Georgia, seven members of the Easterling family in Alabama, and 17 Kentuckians. The indictments included cockfighting, selling and training birds for fighting and attempted bribery of a sheriff. Some of the arenas had paid employees, stadium-style seating and heavy security. This is an example of why strong laws should apply to all participants who profit from or encourage illegal animal cruelty.
Laws only work with strong enforcement, which is why our Law Enforcement Training Center has trained thousands of officers nationwide on how to investigate animal crimes, including cockfighting. We are also partnering with human trafficking task forces to train officers on the strong connection between animal fighting and organized crime, often in the form of “forced servitude” when a person cannot pay their gambling debts.
How you can help
You can help stop cockfighting in your community by knowing how to identify the signs of animal fighting. You can also raise awareness about cockfighting by sharing this story and by calling or emailing your state elected officials to ask them to support stronger animal fighting laws.
Follow Kitty Block on Twitter @HSUSKittyBlock.