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Cockfighting Might Be Making a Comeback

Gaming: Police have broken up at least one club in La Habra and Buena Park, and they suspect Orange County may be a breeding ground for the fighting fowls. The illegal sport had waned here in recent years.


Illegal cockfighting, which all but disappeared from Orange County a decade ago, might be reemerging as an underground sport tucked away in garages and industrial areas.

In the last few months, police in La Habra and Buena Park have broken up at least one cockfighting club, discovering dozens of roosters kept in cramped backyard quarters.

Authorities in Santa Ana estimate they receive about 30 calls a month from homeowners complaining of noisy roosters and hens in their neighborhood, though no cockfighting rings have been found there so far.

La Habra police receive fewer calls, but complaints about crowing birds come in routinely.

"There were . . . 30 or 40 [roosters] flying" in Buena Park at one of the police raids involving the ring, recalled Rick Van Fleet, the La Habra police senior animal control officer involved in the action. "We got what we could. . . . I felt it was quite remarkable. The noise level alone from 40 or so odd roosters was enough to raise the dead."

Police also conducted a smaller raid linked to the club in La Habra.

Cockfighting is popular in Latin America but has long been banned in California and most other states, except New Mexico, Louisiana and Oklahoma. In California, the Legislature recently approved a law toughening anti-cockfighting regulations. A bill now in the U.S. Senate would prohibit transporting fighting birds into states where the sport is still legal.

In the early 1980s, as immigrants from Latin America moved into Orange County, police saw a sharp increase in the sport--along with the gambling and other problems that come with it. Police cracked down in a series of raids that appeared to weed out the problem.

"There was a time when there were a lot of busts," said Orange County Animal Control Lt. Brian Frick. "Then all of a sudden, it just went dead."

Frick and others said that they believe cockfighting is still occurring underground, and that Orange County might be a breeding ground for roosters that are transported elsewhere for fights. "It's just low-key," Frick said. "I know it's going on. But it's just a lot quieter now."

In the Buena Park and La Habra raids, police issued a misdemeanor citation. The birds--worth thousands of dollars to breeders--are then confiscated and destroyed.

Manuel Gomez, a UC Irvine professor and expert on Latino culture, said that while he doesn't condone cockfighting, the sport helps some Latinos face death openly.

"We elevate life, the joy of life . . . when we're able to not deny the reality of death," he said. Still, some animal rights activists decry the sport as inhumane.

"Slavery was very entrenched in our culture. Does that make it acceptable?" said Ava Park, founder of Orange County People for Animals.


Fighting in the Underground

Although cockfighting is illegal in California and 46 other states, Orange County authorities believe the practice in reemerging here.

Besides the bloodiness of the fight, critics of cockfighting say the roosters and hens are treated cruelly beforehand. Some pre-fight practices birds are exposed to:

* Injections of a heard stimulant, vitamins (to increase blood clotting), testosterone, caffeine, methamphetamines

* Water is withheld to lessen blood loss during a fight

* Handler shortens sickle and primary flight feathers, removes some back and saddle area plumage to reduce weight and prevent overheating

* Roosters are heeled - spurs are trimmed and gaffs attached

The Fighter

The comb, wattles and earlobes are usually trimmed on roosters before sexual maturity, whether the cock is for breeding, show or fighting.

The Pit

Fight takes place in dirt-floored, 15'-20' diameter pit. Competing cocks must have the same length gaffs.


* Brain blow: Fatal

* Coupled: Loses control of legs

* Gizzard blow: Results in paralysis

* Hang: Gaff stuck in his body

* Rattled: Lung is punctured

* Wry Neck: Results in paralysis

Fight ends one of three ways:

1. Bird dies

2. Handler concedes fight

3. Bird won't attack

The Weapons

Gaffs, or heels, are attached to both legs using moleskin strips and waxed string. Both short-heeled (2 1/8") and long-heeled (2 1/4") gaffs are used.

Tying a Gaff (Heeling)

1. Natural spur removed

2. Wrap with tape or moleskin

3. Gaff fitted over stump, leather strap attached

4. Gaff secured with waxed string

Where It's Legal

Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma

Source: Eric Sakach, Humane Society of the United States

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