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Cockfighting bust

7/17/2007

SACRAMENTO, Calif. #&151; Authorities disrupted a gruesome cockfighting
operation involving as many as 600 birds, some of whose carcasses
littered the property.

Officials characterized the bust Wednesday as large in scale and
symptomatic of a growing problem, as California's laws against
cockfighting lag behind those of neighboring states.

"It's horrifying," said Paul Bruce, a veterinary technician with
the Humane Society of the United States as he displayed cockfighting
spurs confiscated at the scene. "Absolutely barbaric."

The bust stemmed from an anonymous tip that a cockfight was under
way at a residence, said Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman Sgt.
Tim Curran.

Responding deputies arrived to find 60 to 70 men, women and
children running from the scene, some clutching roosters.

Roughly 50 cars were left behind and will be used to identify
participants or spectators, Curran said.

Seven people were detained. Their involvement was not known, and no
arrests had been made, Curran said.

Officials said participants in the fight, ranging from organizers
to the roosters' owners to the referee, would face felony
cruelty-to-animal charges, as well as misdemeanor cockfighting
charges. If a person had prior cockfighting convictions, those charges
would rise to felonies.

Under state law, spectators could face misdemeanor charges,
officials said.

An estimated 300 to 600 birds were found on the sprawling rural
property, and countless dead birds were scattered about, officials
said.

They also found rats, dead and alive. Bruce described the
conditions as "filthy," and noted that horses and sheep also were
living among the squalor.

One shack housed an arena with telltale score lines etched in the
dirt, officials said. They collected inch-long, bloody spurs; syringes
likely used for administering steroids and antibiotics; derby sheets
with brackets and pay/owe sheets.

Seven roosters also were found dead in the shed. Another four were
injured with "gaping wounds" and taken to a veterinary hospital,
said Eric Sakach, director of the Humane Society's West Coast office.
"You could see bone through their legs," he said.

Outside the shed, authorities found a 55-gallon barrel filled with
rooster carcasses that had been set afire when deputies arrived.

The evidence of a large-scale cockfighting enterprise is
unmistakable, Sakach said. "You can't explain away any of this."

Sakach explained that evidence at the scene indicates the operation
involved "knife-fighting" in a derby-style competition, in which
each human fighter brings multiple roosters. Each rooster is matched
to fight with another within 2 to 3 ounces of its weight.

Razor-sharp spurs are strapped to the rooster's left leg, replacing
the bird's natural spur, a claw made of the same material as human
fingernails. The natural spurs are cut down to a stub, Sakach said.

The roosters are agitated and then thrown into an arena. A fight
lasts 10 to 15 minutes and ends when a rooster refuses to attack —
often when one or both birds are mortally wounded. Winning purses can
be tens of thousands of dollars, Sakach said.

Curran and Sakach said cockfighting is a growing problem in
Sacramento County's rural areas. Wednesday's raid was the second in
two months — a few weeks ago, another operation was dismantled in Rio
Linda.

Officials suspect the activity — illegal in all states but
Louisiana — is prospering in California because surrounding states
have toughened up their laws, some making cockfighting a felony even
for spectators.

Some counties have tried to discourage such operations by passing
ordinances limiting the number of livestock, specifically roosters,
one property owner can have — a move local leaders might want to
consider, Sakach said.

"This is a nasty business," he said.

Kim Minugh can be reached at kminugh@sacbee.com.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.