Editorial: Sickening evidence of cockfighting

  • These roosters are among 427 birds taken from Ravenwold Greenhouses at 1095 Florence Road in Northampton during a police raid last week. The vast majority of the birds were purposefully bred for cockfighting, according to the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The alleged cockfighting operation remains under investigation by the Northampton Police Department.    SUBMITTED PHOTO

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The evidence of alleged cockfighting found last week on the property of Ravenwold Greenhouses at 1095 Florence Road in Northampton is sickening.

Northampton Police seized 427 roosters, hens and chicks after an animal control officer performing a routine barn inspection noticed signs that roosters were being bred for the blood sport of cockfighting. One clue, according to police, was the unusually large number of roosters on the farm.

The animal control officer also observed some roosters with “intentional body modifications” such as sharpened spurs, found “boxing gloves” that are placed over spurs to minimize injuries during training and saw a bag of medication and needles common to cockfighting. A small arena with blood spatters, apparently used to train gamecocks, also was found.

The seized birds were taken to the Nevins Farm in Methuen operated by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. According to the MSPCA, this is the largest alleged cockfighting operating with which it has ever been involved.

By early this week, more than 100 roosters determined to be too aggressive for rehabilitation had been euthanized by the MSPCA, director Mike Keiley said. The MSPCA is seeking suitable homes to care for the approximately 100 hens and 41 chicks taken from Ravenwold that are believed to be less aggressive and suitable for rehabilitation, he added.

However, the other roosters being held at Nevins Farm as evidence likely will have to be euthanized because they were selectively bred to be particularly aggressive, according to Keiley.

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

In the centuries-old practice of cockfighting, the gamecocks — in some cases with razors attached to their feet — are positioned beak to beak in a small arena and fight until one dies or is too seriously injured to continue.

“It’s sickening and brutal,” said Keiley, who said that even winning birds may be killed if they suffer injuries severe enough so they could not fight again.

Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states. The first to outlaw it in 1836 was Massachusetts, where cockfighting is a felony with a penalty of up to five years in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000. Louisiana was the last state to ban cockfighting 10 years ago.

Nevertheless, “cockfighting still persists across the nation in all sorts of communities and among all sorts of people,” according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

It adds, “In organized cockfights, the roosters’ natural fighting instincts are exaggerated through breeding, feeding, training, steroids and vitamins. … Just before a fight, most of the bird’s feathers are plucked and the breeder cuts off the animal’s wattles — the combs below the beak — so that his opponent cannot tear them off.”

Cockfighting remains a legal, highly popular pastime in some countries, including the Philippines, where the World Slasher Cup 2018, known to its fans as the “Olympics of Cockfighting,” was held during May.

Other than the seized birds, details about the alleged cockfighting operation at Ravenwold are scarce, including the ultimate destination of the gamecocks. No one associated with the property or the farm has admitted any knowledge about birds being trained for cockfighting.

Paul Duga Jr., of Hatfield, who owns the property, said he learned of the birds’ seizure through the news media.

Richard Adams, who owns Ravenwold Greenhouses, told the Gazette on May 26, “There was no fighting on the farm. It was nothing I had anything to do with … it was a rented spot they had.”

He later told the Gazette that his brother George, who died about 1½ years ago, started renting a large shed on the farm some 20 years ago to people known only to him as “Chicken Man 1,” “Chicken Man 2” and “Chicken Man 3.”

We trust that Northampton Police, and whatever other law enforcement resources are needed, will bring charges against those they believe responsible for this cruelty. Their prosecution should serve as an example that such criminal behavior will not be tolerated in Massachusetts.