MSPCA scrambles to care for birds seized in cockfighting bust

  • One of hundreds of roosters seized from a suspected illegal cockfighting site in Northampton is caged at MSPCA’s Nevins Farm, Tuesday, in Methuen. AP PHOTO/Elise Amendola

  • A rooster seized from a suspected illegal cockfighting site in Northampton is held by a staffer at MSPCA’s Nevins Farm, Tuesday, in Methuen. AP PHOTO/Elise Amendola

  • Roosters seized from a suspected illegal cockfighting site in Northampton are fed by a volunteer at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Nevins Farm, Tuesday, in Methuen. AP PHOTO/Elise Amendola

For the Gazette
Published: 5/29/2018 9:57:00 PM

METHUEN — Officials and volunteers from the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals are working diligently to care for more than 300 chickens and roosters that were seized from a Florence farm last week.

Northampton police seized 427 birds from Ravenwold Greenhouses on Florence Road, Thursday and Friday, after finding evidence of an illegal cockfighting operation. More than 100 roosters deemed too aggressive for rehabilitation have already been euthanized by the MSPCA, Director Mike Keiley said Tuesday.

As Northampton police continue to investigate the cockfighting operation, the remaining birds are being held at Nevins Farm in Methuen as live evidence — the living remnants of the largest cockfighting bust the MSPCA said it has ever been involved with.

Because the roosters have been selectively bred for generations to be particularly aggressive, Keiley said they are not rehabilitable and will likely be euthanized at the conclusion of the investigation.

“Our brains are wired to take animals out of bad situations and improve them,” Keiley said.

“But unfortunately, in this case, the best that we can do for these roosters is provide them a humane death and save them from the brutal end they would have faced otherwise.”

The MSPCA is actively looking for sanctuaries and suitable homes that may be able to care for the roughly 100 hens and 41 chicks on-site that are believed to be less aggressive and potentially rehabilitable, Keiley said.

Since being alerted to the discovery of the cockfighting organization last week, the MSPCA has been scrambling to provide adequate care for the birds.

“It’s been all hands on deck,” MSPCA community outreach coordinator Julia Pesek said Tuesday. As the birds await euthanasia or relocation, Pesek said the organization is focused on providing them the most comfortable existence possible.

Nearly all the floor space in the two-story Nevins Farm barn is now occupied by rows of cages that house the birds, nearly all of whom are caged individually because they will attack each other otherwise, Keiley said.

Stalls formerly used to house horses and pigs are now crammed with up to 10 cages housing the birds.

At the time of the bust in Florence, the MSPCA happened to have fewer horses and pigs on hand than normal after many were recently adopted, providing additional space for birds, Keiley said.

All of the birds are provided hay bedding, cool water and bird feed. The staff has also worked to provide the birds fresh fruit and sticks and metal poles that they can roost on while sleeping.

“They love fresh berries and watermelon,” Pesek said. “We hope it helps make their stay here pleasant.”

Pesek said chickens and roosters are self-aware and are capable for forming bonds with one another.

“Birds are actually really intelligent creatures, so this is really severe cruelty they’ve been subjected to,” she said.

While Pesek said the situation for the birds is “certainly not ideal” at Nevins Farm, she believes it’s a drastic improvement from the quality of life they faced in Florence.

Roosters that are bred to fight will inevitably face a violent death, Keiley said, as the birds are compelled to fight to the death for entertainment.

“It’s sickening and brutal,” Keiley said, adding that even winning birds are often killed if they’re too injured to fight again.

Pesek also said that at first, it was difficult for MSPCA officials to identify which birds were roosters and which were hens because many of the roosters’ identifying crowns and wattles had been cut off to improve their fighting ability. He said other body modifications, such as sharpening the birds’ spurs and attaching razors to them, are also not uncommon.

Four birds that were found to have significant injuries at the time of their seizure are receiving medical treatment in a separate building on the property. Injuries to these birds include severe head and scalp lacerations caused by pecking.

A makeshift “maternity ward” has also been set up in a room typically used to train dogs. The ward houses the chicks and their mothers, providing them with proper lighting and temperature.

While the chicks have been bred to grow up to be killers, Pesek believes they could still be saved. They will undergo evaluation and temperament assessment as they develop.

Ultimately, the fate of the birds at Nevins Farm will be collectively decided by the organization’s management team.

“It’s hard to care for them but that’s much easier than having those kinds of conversations,” Pesek said. “We’re all here because we love animals, so to euthanize a large number of them that you’ve cared for is very, very difficult.”

Animals that are euthanized by the MSPCA are given lethal injections in a small, windowless room on the Nevins Farm property. Their bodies are then taken off-site and cremated.

“When that day comes, it’s going to be really hard,” Pesek said. “But at least we’ll know they died peacefully and painlessly.”


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