Op-Ed by Caitlin Alyse Baiduc – Humane Action Pennsylvania, Eastern PA Coordinator
Throughout my life, friends and acquaintances alike have told me that I “feel things more deeply than most people” or that I am a “super empath,” particularly when it comes to animal protection issues. While I confess these sentiments are true, there are days when I wish they were not. For example, when I started reading more about animal fighting, particularly cockfighting.
Cockfighting, also known as gamefowl fighting, gamecocks fighting, and rooster fighting, is perhaps not a topic you’ve given much thought to. So what exactly does it entail?
Cockfighting is a barbarous blood sport that involves pitting two (or sometimes more) roosters against one another in a small enclosure or “pit” from which they cannot escape. The roosters, often equipped with “gaffs” (razor-sharp ice pick-shaped blades) on their legs, are encouraged to fight to the death. Bets are placed on each fight, and fights can last from a few seconds to upwards of 15 minutes. Although the rules do not always require one or both birds to die in order to declare a winner, due to the severity of the injuries sustained during fights – broken bones, punctured legs, slashed eyes – death of one or both birds is often the end result.
As an empath, my mind immediately goes to the question, “what must these birds be feeling?” I can only imagine it’s sheer panic, terror, and an instinctual urge to fight for their lives. Inflaming the situation further is the fact that these roosters are often drugged with steroids, amped up on Vitamin A, and trained rigorously in preparation for the fights. Before fighting, they are forced to live in unnatural conditions, kept separate from others of their species and typically tethered to a stake, often with an upside-down barrel with a hole cut in the side for shelter.
While the exact number of fighting birds in the US is not well-documented, it is believed to be in the millions, with thousands of farms breeding thousands of birds to satiate the appetite of hundreds of cockfighting pits around the US. But the US market is only one piece of the puzzle. The United States is the world capital for the breeding of gamefowl, supplying tens of thousands of birds to 25 countries around the globe. From Mexico to Manilla, home of the “World Slasher Derby,” the senseless cruelty of cockfighting seems to know no bounds.
The scale of this depravity makes a “super empath” like me feel deeply anguished. Perhaps you are less inclined to take a bird’s eye view on the issue (pardon the quip) but consider the implications for human safety and health. Animal fighting, including cockfighting and the perhaps more publicly disgraced blood sport of dogfighting, is often associated with a network of crime: illegal drug and weapon dealing, violence, prostitution, corruption, child abuse, and human trafficking. Further, due to the close quarters, stressful conditions, and lax biosecurity measures surrounding cockfighting rings, gamefowl are also high-risk vector species for the transmission of bird flu, such as H5N1. As noted in the Animal Wellness Action’s briefing, “there is a justified fear that the H5N1 bird flu virus may mutate into a strain capable of sustained human- to-human transmission, an event that would be far worse than the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As of 2021, cockfighting is a crime in all 50 states and classified as a felony in 42 states. Animal welfare organizations have worked in tandem with allies in Congress to continually tighten the Animal Fighting Prohibition Act, e.g., by making it a federal crime to attend a cockfight or to bring a child to one. However, birds continue to die needlessly and ruthlessly as cockfights persist to this day.
For the roosters and dogs involved in animal fighting in the US, there is further hope on the horizon. The FIGHT Act (USHR2742, Fight Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Animal Trafficking Act) was introduced in the House in April 2023. The FIGHT Act takes a multi-pronged approach to enhance enforcement capacity around animal fighting including banning broadcasting of and gambling on animal fighting ventures, banning the shipment of mature roosters, creating a citizen suit provision, and enhancing forfeiture provisions for animal fighting crimes. These additional measures will make it harder – and costlier – for animal fighting enthusiasts to continue their crimes. Passing the FIGHT Act will bring us one step closer to a world in which no animal needs to die a brutal, senseless death in the name of human “entertainment.” I hope we can all raise a toast to that.
Caitlin Alyse Baiduc, MS
Humane Action Pennsylvania, Eastern PA Coordinator