Humane Society of Berks County developing program to retrain roosters involved in cockfighting


24 / JULIO / 2009

By Angela Haupt

On March 10, the Humane Society of Berks County seized 18 roosters from a cockfighting ring in Muhlenberg Township. The birds, too aggressive to be released to the public, were euthanized – the nearly inevitable fate for captured gamecocks nationwide.

Just 30 days later, on April 8, six roosters were seized from a ring in Reading. This time, Humane Society officials acted on a tip from a caller and transferred a few of the birds to Eastern Shore Sanctuary in Maryland. There they were retrained and offered what is, essentially, a second chance at life.

The Berks chapter is working to develop a similar rehabilitative program, changing the policy that for so long has sentenced seized gamecocks to death.

“The program is evolving and in the development phase,” said Dylan Heckart, the Humane Society’s field services coordinator. “But we are absolutely dedicated to making this work. It’s interesting that it took us this long, quite frankly.”

The face of cockfighting isn’t pretty, Heckart said. Roosters, trained to wage bloody battles to the death, wear sharply-pointed steel blades along their spurs to puncture and mutilate. Razors are used to slice off their comb and wattle, the fleshy red tissue on their head and neck. And, provoked by injections of testosterone and methamphetamines, they are socialized to view other roosters as predators.

Those who engage in cockfighting are lured by greed – roosters are inexpensive and there’s big money to be made, Heckart said and a desire for entertainment.

“It’s something that’s legal in many other countries, so any time you have an insular immigrant community, you’re going to have behaviors that carry over from the home country,” Heckart said. “We see a lot of cockfighting with immigrants from Central American countries and from the Philippines, where it’s legal and accepted.”

The March and April raids were the first in Berks County since 2006. Typically, the Humane Society breaks up animal fighting rings about once every two or three years, Heckart said.

Shelter officials nationwide long believed they had no choice but to euthanize the birds, since seized gamecocks are typically so aggressive they jeopardize staffers’ safety.

“The idea was that they’re a huge liability,” Heckart said. “We couldn’t release them directly to the public, because that would be irresponsible on our part, and they couldn’t live out their lives at the shelter. So they were going to be euthanized, which was sort of the standing order for years.”

The standing order everywhere, that is, except at Eastern Shore Sanctuary, which relocated this month from Maryland to Vermont. In 2001, the facility became the first to develop a method of rehabilitating roosters.

At Eastern Shore, former cockfighters learn to tolerate the sight and sound of other birds by observing them from within the safety of a cage. They are allowed to mingle with each other several times a day until they begin fighting. Eventually, they are retrained to socialize freely and calmly.

“It’s a process of helping them realize they don’t have to be afraid, and teaching them that when fighting occurs, they’ll go back to the cage,” said Miriam Jones, one of three facility coordinators.

She said Eastern Shore was “thrilled” to join forces with the Berks chapter in April to work with the seized gamecocks.

“The Humane Society is clearly doing so much for roosters, and it’s rare for these guys to have anyone advocating for them,” Jones said. “It’s a big deal, the work they’re doing.”

The Humane Society will mimic Eastern Shore’s retraining method, allowing roosters to run in a gated area until they fight, then isolating them in cages and repeating the process. Though they have yet to rehabilitate any roosters, Heckart said the chapter is prepared, should the need arise.

Once the birds have been rehabilitated, they will likely be adopted out to local farm owners with space to spare.

“Fighting roosters have long been thought to be unsalvageable,” said Karel Minor, the Humane Society’s executive director. “This program is giving us a chance to truly save them we can start with a few and build up to all.”

Heckart stressed that, beyond rescuing individual roosters, he is perhaps most excited about the broader impact.

“The idea here is that we’re changing a policy that’s going to change the culture of how we deal with these animals,” Heckart said. “Five years from now, it won’t be just us doing this. It won’t be just Eastern Shore Sanctuary. Everybody who is involved with this kind of work is going to take a second look at whether the policy of strictly euthanizing these animals is the only option.

“So even though we might save, you know, 15 roosters from a raid, it’s not just that we’re saving those individual birds and giving them a second chance it’s that we’ve changed the way we deal with this.”

Contact Angela Haupt:


~ by politicaesaccion on July 24, 2009.

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