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Cockfighting Q&A

Why should cockfighting be banned?
Breeding birds for aggressive traits, training them to fight, strapping knives or ice-pick-like gaffs to their legs, and placing them in a pit to fight to injury or death is the very definition of animal cruelty. If it is wrong to fight dogs for amusement, it is also wrong to fight roosters.

Do they really strap knives or gaffs to their legs?
Yes. The fight is defined by the style of weapon strapped to the combatants' legs, such as a "short-knife" fight, a "long-knife" fight, or a "gaff fight." Cockfighters shave down or cut off the natural spur on the birds' legs and then strap on the knives before the fight.

Why are the knives and gaffs used?
They enhance the bloodletting, making the fight more entertaining for people who get a kick out of seeing animals hack one another to death. What's more, the weapons make the fights end more quickly; many cockfighting fans would be bored if the fights went on for hours. This also allows pit owners to benefit from greater numbers of roosters entered in cockfight events, which often last three days. On "derby" days, over one thousand roosters are killed or maimed at a single location.

Has any other state passed an initiative to ban cockfighting?
Yes, the citizens of Arizona and Missouri - after seeing that state legislators refused to ban cockfights - gathered signatures to place measures on their statewide ballots and then overwhelmingly approved the bans. The vast majority of citizens - urban and rural, Democrat and Republican, white and black - voted in favor of the cockfighting bans.

Is animal fighting a felony in any other state?
It is a felony to fight dogs in 45 states, and it is a felony to fight roosters in 26 states. Many of the remaining states are now considering legislation to upgrade penalties for animal fighting.

Isn't a felony a pretty stiff penalty?
Yes, it is a tough penalty, but a necessary one to combat this indefensible conduct. Misdemeanor penalties that result in a small fine provide no meaningful deterrent to cockfighters, who simply consider the fines that result from misdemeanor convictions to be a cost of doing business. Individuals can avoid felony penalties by not fighting the birds - it's that simple.

Is it a felony to be a spectator at a cockfight?
Attending a cockfight is a Misedemeanor. The differential penalties for fighting the birds and watching the fights reflects the thinking that attending the fights is wrong, but not as serious an offense as conducting or facilitating the fights themselves.

Is it a felony to fight dogs?
Yes it is, and it helps deter dogfighting. What's more, the law banning dogfighting has a major forfeiture provision, allowing the confiscation of property used in the commission of a dogfighting crime.

Isn't cockfighting natural?
The wild birds related to today's modern gamecock did not fight to the death in their natural environments. Males sometimes engage in fights to determine their place in the social order, called a pecking order. Rarely if ever do the encounters between roosters end in injury or death. Of course, these birds simply have their natural spurs as a weapons, not sharpened knives or gaffs. Nor are the wild birds dosed with stimulants to heighten their aggression. In natural territorial battles, the vanquished rooster is allowed to leave or submit to the authority of the stronger bird. The "handlers" at cockfights force their birds to fight to the death or major injury.

Are birds really drugged for fights?
Cockfighters' journals - such as The Gamecock, The Feather Warrior, and Grit & Steel -- are full of ads for stimulants, hormones, and blood-clotting drugs. Strychnine is one of the most popular stimulants. It and other drugs give birds a "boost" despite multiple puncture wounds or knife wounds.

Is cockfighting a big industry?
There are thousands of birds killed at cockfights, but it's hardly a significant source of economic activity. Money changes hands in bets on birds, but that simply transfers money between individuals. No state gets no share of the dollars illegally wagered at cockfights.

Are children allowed to attend cockfights?
Each pit makes its own rules, but it is very common to have children attend cockfights. At some pits, children under 12 pay no admission fee. Thus, they are exposed to blatant animal cruelty, gambling, and other inappropriate conduct that occurs at cockfights. There is a strong link established between acts of cruelty to animals and violence to people, and it is very dangerous for children to see that adults sanction this sort of cruelty and consider it acceptable. One newspaper documented children actively betting substantial sums of money out in the open at a cockfight.

Is cockfighting legal anywhere else?
Cockfighting is illegal in 47 states; most states banned cockfighting in the 19th century. It is legal only in Louisiana, certain counties in New Mexico, and in Oklahoma. Cockfighting had been illegal in Oklahoma until 1963, when a state judge declared that chickens were not covered under the anti-animal fighting statute that had been adopted around the time of statehood.

What does the veterinary community have to say about cockfights?
The American Veterinary Medical Association strongly opposes cockfighting and supports laws to make cockfighting a felony.

Where in are the cockfights? A Focus on Oklahoma
Cockfighters admit to 42 legal pits throughout the state, mainly on the borders to that cockfighters from other states can travel and fight their birds. Some of the pits are in Arnett, Calvin, Kellyville, Kingston, Muldrow, Sallisaw, Thackerville, and Wapanucka.

Is there illegal gambling at cockfights?
Yes, gambling is commonplace at cockfights, even though many cockfighting pits place "no gambling" signs in the pits and seating areas. Without gambling, there would hardly be a reason to hold cockfights.

Is Cockfighting a sporting event in Oklahoma?

If cockfighting is such a popular sport in Oklahoma, why is it that you never read about the results on the sports pages?

Oklahoma is one of only four states where those who place animals in a pit to fight to the death for amusement and wagering can do so legally. And Oklahoma is one of just seven states where keeping and training animals for the purpose of fighting is also perfectly legal.

Anyone who has witnessed a cockfight can attest to the sadistic cruelty of these events. These animals are bred to maximize aggression. The fighting chickens are additionally fitted with razor-sharp knives, making fights even bloodier. Broken bones, gouged eyes, mauled faces and other grievous wounds are all typical, as is the blood splattered everywhere. Even the winners often die from their injuries.

Congress is expected to act soon to bar the interstate shipping of birds for fighting. It already is illegal to ship dogs across state lines for fighting. Oklahoma should act as well to join the overwhelming majority of other states with strong laws against animal fighting. Cockfighting is not a sport. It's brutal, bloody, inhumane conduct.

Top Ten Reasons To Ban Cockfighting

10. Birds are armed with razor-sharp blades.

9. It is American Veterinary Medical Association position that cockfighting is cruel.

8. When the birds stop fighting, they’re held in each other’s face until angry again.

7. Stabbings, shootings, rapes, and drug dealing have all happened at cockfights.

6. 47 states have banned cockfighting (30 did so in the 1800s).

5. Children are routinely taken to cockfights in Oklahoma.

4. Illegal gambling is commonplace at cockfights.

3. Law Enforcement has found cockfights a good place to look for wanted criminals.

2. No state's image should appear as a haven for animal abusers.

1. Arming drugged animals so they’ll kill each other is wrong – dead wrong!


Dogfighting and cockfighting are inhumane and barbaric activities. In a typical fight, two animals bred and trained for fighting are drugged to heighten their aggression and forced to keep fighting even after injuries such as pierced lungs and gouged eyes - all for the amusement and illegal wagering of handlers and spectators. Dogfighting and cockfighting are also associated with other criminal conduct, such as drug traffic, illegal firearms use, and violence toward people. Children are often present at these spectacles.

Felony penalties are needed. U.S. Attorneys are reluctant to pursue animal fighting cases with a misdemeanor penalty. Since Section 26 was enacted in 1976, federal authorities have pursued fewer than a half dozen animal fighting cases, although USDA has received innumerable tips from informants and requests to assist with state and local prosecutions.

The House and Senate already passed felony penalties for animal fighting. In 2002, both chambers overwhelmingly approved identically-worded provisions authorizing up to two years of jail time for animal fighting as part of their respective Farm bills. While these identical provisions should have been included in the final bill, the increase in jail time to two years was dropped in conference.

S. 736 & H.R. 1532 bring federal law in line with state laws. When the federal animal fighting law was enacted in 1976, no states made animal fighting a felony. Today, dogfighting is a felony in 47 states, and cockfighting is a felony in 30 states. The number of states making animal cruelty a felony has risen from just 4 states in 1976 to 41 states today. State laws commonly authorize jail time of 3 to 5 years or more for animal fighting.

Other recent federal animal protection laws have felony penalties. In 1999, Congress authorized imprisonment of up to 5 years for interstate commerce in videos depicting animal cruelty (P.L. 106-152), and mandatory jail time of up to 10 years for willfully harming or killing a federal police dog or horse (P.L. 106-254).

There is no reason to allow interstate and foreign commerce in sharp implements designed exclusively for cockfights, when Congress has prohibited such commerce in birds for fighting. Razor-sharp knives known as "slashers" and ice pick-like gaffs are attached to the legs of birds to make cockfights more violent. These weapons, used only in cockfights, are sold through cockfighting magazines and through the Internet.

The animal fighting industry continues to thrive across the U.S. All 50 states ban dogfighting, 48 states ban cockfighting, and there has been a dramatic increase in the number of animal fighting raids by state and local authorities. Yet numerous nationally circulated animal fighting magazines still promote these cruel practices and advertise fighting animals and the accoutrements of animal fighting. There are also several active websites for animal fighting enthusiasts, and paid lobbyists advocating animal fighters' interests.

Cockfighters have spread Exotic Newcastle Disease (END) and pose a continuing threat to farmers. In September 2002, END was identified in southern California. It is now well-documented that cockfighting played a major role in the spread of this lethal disease affecting birds. Since that time, state and federal authorities have spent more than $200 million on containment and compensation. The disease spread to large-scale egg farms in California as well as Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas. According to government authorities, interstate and international transport of fighting birds posed the greatest risk of transmission, since cockfighters move their birds around so much and participants from as many as a dozen states may gather at illegal fighting derbies. Cockfighters are costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.

When Cockfighting Was First Banned In The United States

The 1800's
Massachusetts 1836
Delaware 1852
Vermont 1854
Connecticut 1862
Iowa 1868
Pennsylvania 1869
D.C. 1871
Minnesota 1871
Missouri 1873*
Nebraska 1873
Arkansas 1879
Mississippi 1880
New Jersey 1880
New York 1881
Tennessee 1881
North Carolina 1881
Idaho 1883
Hawaii 1884
Virginia 1887
South Carolina 1887
New Hampshire 1887
Utah 1888
Wisconsin 1889
Kansas 1889
Maryland 1890
North Dakota 1891
Kentucky 1893
Wyoming 1895
Montana 1895
Rhode Island 1896
Alabama 1896

1900 - World War II
Washington 1901
Maine 1903
South Dakota1903
California 1905
Texas 1907
Colorado 1913
Michigan 1915
Nevada 1919
Illinois 1921
West Virginia 1923
Indiana 1926
Georgia 1933

SinceWorld War II
Alaska 1953
Oregon 1970
Florida 1986
Oklahoma 2002

Still Not Banned
New Mexico (banned
in 13 counties)

*Missouri (overturned in 1984, banned again in 1998)

Friday Night at the Cockfights One Observer’s Perspective
By Jay Casey, an O.C.A.C. Volunteer

I attended three cockfighting events at "pits" near Bristow, Cleveland, and Chickasaw, Oklahoma in recent years. Of course I was against cockfighting but I went to find out exactly what these fights were like. The first time I went to a cockfight I was invited by a young lady, the niece of a pit-owner, who thought that by getting me to experience the excitement of a fight I would become endeared to the "sport of kings" as cockfighters call it. She was certain she could show me the folly of my opposition to "chicken fights".

Finding a cockfight to go to is not an easy matter. The aficionados of cockfighting don't exactly advertise their events or even the venues. About the only way to find out where the pits are is to know somebody in the cockfighting world or take out a subscription to "Grit & Steel", the cockfighters magazine. You won't find this magazine next to the candy and batteries at the Wal-Mart checkout stand. Even in Oklahoma where cockfighting is legal, the cockfighters like to keep a low profile.

Cockfighting pits, at least those in Oklahoma, look pretty much like any old barn in a field. You could drive by them everyday of your life and not know what goes on behind those corrugated tin walls. There are no signs announcing that you have arrived at the "Blockbuster Video Cockfighting Arena of Greater Bristow", just a nondescript gravel road leading off the blacktop. About the only giveaway that this is no ordinary farm building is the large parking area around the building. And on a weekend, more cars and trucks than one would expect to be encircling a remote barn.

At my first fight I naively sat down on the front row and began taking photos of the fighting chickens and their handlers in the pit before me. Big mistake. Seems that cockfighters are a tad camera shy. The scene reminded me of one of those Merrill Lynch TV ads where a fellow in a bustling crowd says "...and Merrill Lynch says..." and everyone freezes in their tracks to listen. The chickens were no longer the focus of the crowd of about a hundred spectators - I was. I was collared and whisked to the pit owners "office" where my film was destroyed, I was given a lecture on the connection between Jesus and cockfighting, and escorted to my car. My first cockfight had been a very brief introduction to the "sport". I still didn't get what Jesus had to do with cockfighting.

Not about to give up on my education quite so easily the next weekend I attended another fight at another pit some miles away from my previous debut. This time I sat at the back of the bleachers that surrounded the pit, sans camera and trying to fit in as best I could. I hunkered, elbows on denim, and pretended to chew. Two kids of about 10 years old sat next to me.

The first pair of cocks were brought out by their handler/owners - two men in ball caps and plaid shirts. The long steel gaffs or blades were already strapped to the cock's legs. The two men held the cocks face to face, bill to bill for a few seconds to get the birds properly agitated. At an unseen signal the handlers dropped the birds and backed off. The birds went at it, slicing each other to shreds for a few minutes. When one bird fell over and seemed to submit to the stronger bird the handlers picked the birds up and again held them bill to bill until they were both angry enough to continue the fight. The most severely cut and bleeding cock collapsed after another minute. The fight was over. The losing bird was jerked out of the pit and removed.

As the second fight started I turned my attention to the spectators. Most were men but a surprising number of women and children were in the crowd. Almost everyone in the crowd had been feverishly offering and accepting wagers on the upcoming fight. Even kids were standing, money in outstretched hands, calling out to others in the bleachers to accept their bets on the outcome. Gambling, illegal though it be, was an integral part of the cockfighting ritual so it seemed.

Behind the indoor bleachers was a snack bar. I didn't have much of an appetite by now but I checked out the menu. Sure enough, fried chicken was on the menu. So was everything else familiar to those of us who frequent bowling alley snack bars; Tater-Tot potatoes, nachos, and hamburgers. Children played under the bleachers just like I had at high school football games. It was a bizarre "family atmosphere".

After a couple of more fights I left. On the way to the parking lot I noticed a young teenager standing next to a pile of bloody feathers. He had a limp bird in his hand. He was cussing at this bird which was looking back at him with one eye. The other eye was hanging out of its socket. The young fellow was angry that his bird had let him down by losing its fight. With an angry “fwap” the kid slammed the bird down onto the pile of dead and dying cocks that had, according to the cockfighters, lost with honor earlier that day.

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