Cock-breeding explodes around Carmel-by-the-Sea
MONTEREY, California––By the look of it, more might have been done in Monterey County to enforce legislation against breeding gamecocks if California had remained a U.S. territory in 1850 instead of becoming a state, four years after overthrowing Spanish rule.
Exulted Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block and Humane Society Legislative Fund president Sara Amundson on October 8, 2019 in a jointly attributed electronic newsletter, “The federal government has filed a brief strongly defending a law that would expand the ban on cockfighting in the United States to Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories,” effective on December 20, 2019.
“Cockfighters seeking to overturn the ban have challenged it in federal court,” Block and Amundson elaborated. “But the U.S. Department of Justice said that federal precedent is clear: Congress not only has the authority to ban animal fighting across all 50 states, but it can also apply it to U.S. territories.”
But feds lack jurisdiction in Monterey County
The U.S. federal jurisdiction applies within states wherever cockfighters or cockfighting paraphernalia, including gamecocks themselves, cross state lines.
In Monterey County, though, the cockfighting industry appears to be thriving and self-sufficient, relying on locally bred gamecocks while a local ordinance meant to stop the industry remains almost as unenforced as if it had been adopted in the 1770-1850 time frame, when the city of Monterey, for which the county is named, was the capital of California under Spanish rule.
Cockfighting visibly persists in all five self-governing U.S. territories, among them Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean region, plus Guam, the Mariana Islands, and American Samoa in the Pacific region.
Cockfighting more prominent in Monterey County than in Puerto Rico
Among them, cockfighting has the largest economic presence, albeit often exaggerated by cockfighting defenders, in Puerto Rico––as detailed by ANIMALS 24-7 on May 26, 2019.
But there are now arguably more active cockfighters and gamecock breeders in Monterey County, California, at least relative to human population, than in either Puerto Rico or any of the other U.S. territories where cockfighting is soon to end.
Block and Amundson were quick to claim as a “victory” for HSUS and the subsidiary Humane Society Legislative Fund the extension of the U.S. federal prohibition on cockfighting to the overseas territories.
But where were HSUS and subsidiaries while Monterey became one of the western hubs of cockfighting on the U.S. mainland ?
Gamecocks under Doris Day’s nose
After all, singer and actress Doris Day, for whom the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) was named in 1986, lived in Carmel, Monterey County, from 1981 until her death from pneumonia on May 13, 2019. Her home was just 22 miles from the most visible concentration of gamecock breeders in the county, in the unincorporated Boronda neighborhood.
Merged into HSUS in August 2006, the Doris Day Animal League was absorbed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund in mid-2018, after former HSUS vice president Holly Hazard––the only executive director that DDAL ever had––retired.
Meanwhile, for more than a dozen years a multitude of HSUS executives, board members, fundraisers, and high donors popped up in Carmel and elsewhere in Monterey County without apparently ever seeing or saying a thing about the increasingly obvious presence of cockfighting––or about the notoriously violent California Rodeo Salinas, for that matter.
“You’ll find several in plain sight”
But the rodeo goes on for just a few days a year, behind fences. People who do not pay admission will not see it. The gamecock breeding industry can be seen throughout Monterey County from cars doing the speed limit.
The people associated with HSUS were, of course, not alone in seeing and saying nothing.
Blogged former Monterey Herald editor Royal Calkins on July 11, 2019 for his current venture, Voices of Monterey Bay, “Spotting the illegal rooster-raising operations in Monterey County isn’t all that hard. Cruise the backroads around Royal Oaks or Las Lomas, little communities between Watsonville and Prunedale, and you’ll find several in plain sight, behind or beside houses and barns scattered throughout the hills.
“County officials are simply ignoring” gamecocks
“Acting on a complaint, members of the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury went out earlier this year and quickly found plenty of the fighting variety,” Calkins wrote, “more than enough to lead to the conclusion that county officials are simply ignoring the county’s December 2014 ordinance intended to control the apparently growing industry of raising and selling roosters destined to win or die in the ring.”
(See grand jury report: https://www.co.monterey.ca.us/home/showdocument?id=78112)
The 2014 ordinance requires anyone keeping more than five roosters to obtain a license. The ordinance left coordinating enforcement to Monterey County director of environmental health John Ramirez.
Ramirez did not respond to telephone messages from Calkins.
Reported Calkins, “A longtime county employee who deals regularly with Ramirez’s office and the county’s limited animal control operation said county employees are told that the rooster industry is among the county’s lowest enforcement priorities. While investigations of illegal bird breeding can be complicated and expensive, the budget for animal control and related activities has dramatically declined in recent years, to the point that only two employees share responsibility for animal-related enforcement efforts countywide.
“They’re told that there are lots of political and cultural issues involved and that they shouldn’t do anything unless they absolutely have to,” wrote Calkins, adding that “the employee feared being fired if identified.
Cockfighting not authentic Californio heritage
“While the county was drafting the ordinance,” Calkins mentioned, “rooster breeders told county officials that cockfighting is part of the Latino heritage and, therefore, deserves some measure of protection.
“Elsewhere, breeders have argued that cockfighting is part of the Filipino heritage, the heritage of various other Asian cultures, Pacific Islander heritage and the heritage of various Anglo populations rooted in the South.”
Calkins did not mention, however, perhaps because he did not know, that cockfighting was not part of the original cultural heritage of the “Californios” in the Salinas Valley and Monterey coastal region, as the Catholicized Spanish-speaking descendants of indigenous Californians are called.
Indeed, the ancestors of the Californios had no domestic fowl before they were subjugated by Spanish invaders in the 18th century.
Judge tossed case against ordinance
Gamecock breeders James Leahy, Heriberto Perez, and Miguel Angel Reyes Robles tried to mount a cultural defense in a 2016 lawsuit contending that the Monterey County rooster-keeping ordinance infringed on their constitutional rights. Monterey County Superior Court Judge
Thomas Wills, however, held that their rights were not infringed by rules “designed to protect the environment and to provide safe and humane treatment for roosters.”
Said Ramirez at the time, in a written statement, “The permit requirement does not prohibit applicants from owning roosters. It only requires that they operate and maintain properties to prevent environmental and health-related impacts and to ensure animals are cared for and treated properly, and not raised for illegal cockfighting.”
“While Ramirez won’t declare the purpose of the ordinance is targeting illegal cockfighting,” wrote Jim Johnson of the Monterey Herald, “he leaves little doubt the new rules are expected to help weed out those who raise birds for that purpose. He estimates there are a ‘couple hundred’ sites with five or more roosters in the county — most of them in the northern and southern parts of the county.
“Couple hundred” now more than 1,000
“We believe having these restrictions, because a lot of cockfighting operations are in unkempt conditions. Those people (who are unable to meet the new rules) are likely raising them for illegal purposes,” Ramirez alleged. “Hobbyists are exempt. If they’re doing things the right way, there’s no problem. I suspect anyone who sees the ordinance as a challenge is not doing things right.”
Added Johnson, “Ramirez pointed out that the permit application also requires rooster keepers to attest, under penalty of perjury, that they are not raising the fowl for cockfighting or other illegal purposes, and have never been convicted of cockfighting.”
But the “couple hundred” rooster breeders Ramirez mentioned less than four years ago have ballooned up to more than a thousand, according to the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury report.
Ramirez, a graduate of North Salinas High School, left the region to pursue his education. After working “as a mechanical designer in computer aided design for companies including Westinghouse and Martin Marietta,” reported Amy Wu for the Monterey California in a 2016 profile, Ramirez returned to Monterey County in 1989 as a hazardous materials specialist for the Environmental Health Bureau of Monterey County Health Department.
Ramirez was promoted to director of the Monterey County Health Department in 2010, at a starting salary of $121,356.
For several years no one seems to have noticed that Ramirez not only was not enforcing the 2015 ordinance meant to inhibit raising gamecocks, but had also in effect dismantled it by introducing bureaucratic procedures that circumvented the intent of the ordinance, and by dismantling the Monterey County animal control department as well.
Animal control takes brunt of budget cuts
“Over the last decade,” observed Pam Marino of Monterey County Now in May 2018, “Animal Services staff has been whittled away, from 24 full-time equivalent positions to 15.5 currently – which might be cut in half,” due to a $36.2 million county budget shortfall.
Of 83 total county jobs eliminated, the Health Department lost 43. Animal control law enforcement, already steeply reduced, was cut back even more than the rest of the Health Department.
But had all of the estimated 1,000 rooster-keeping facilities in Monterey County been licensed, as the 2015 ordinance directed, animal control could have taken in an additional $270,000 in operating revenue, enough to save as many as five positions.
“In 2010,” when Ramirez became director of the Monterey County Health Department, the Monterey County grand jury found, “there were six full-time animal control officers and a dedicated dispatcher on staff. By the fall of 2018 there were only two remaining animal control officers and no dispatcher.”
Debraining a possibly rabid skunk
Animal control officer Cathy Stanley clashed with Ramirez at least twice as the animal control department was downsized and duties were consolidated.
In 2012, according to the May 2015 edition of the State Employees International Union Local 521 newsletter, “Without proper protection, Cathy protested against management’s instruction to de-brain a skunk that was potentially infected with rabies.”
Proper protection, according to U.S. Center for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines, should have included rabies pre-exposure prophylaxis, protective clothing, appropriate tools and a location for doing the job, and training in how to do it.
“Rather than protect its employee,” said the State Employees International Union newsletter, “the county accused Cathy of insubordination. After a cursory investigation, Health Department manager John Ramirez demoted Cathy to inspect portable toilets, and then suspended her for 10 days.”
Ramirez lost case over gag order too
Stanley won the case, and was subsequently elected State Employees International Union Local 521 shop steward.
Later in the year, according to the December 18, 2015 edition of the State Employees International Union Local 521 newsletter, “Monterey County management illegally threatened to discipline SEIU 521 members in the Animal Services Department if they were caught discussing any employment matters involving other employees.
“Health Department Manager John Ramirez reaffirmed the directive in another email to staff.”
Stanley, however, won again before a grievance arbitration panel.
“As a result,” the State Employees International Union Local 521 newsletter said, “the County is required to send a clarifying email to all Animal Services employees rescinding the unlawful directive from Ramirez and notifying them that they have a right to discuss any management action that affects wages, hours, or terms and conditions of employment with their union representatives and co-workers.”
Stanley retired in January 2018, before the most recent round of budget cuts.
SHARK drones exposed illegal gamecock breeders
“In August 2018,” Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) founder Steve Hindi recounted recently to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors, “SHARK’s drones began documenting the illegal rooster sites, and our results were made public on multiple occasions. In the fourteen months that have followed, just one illegal rooster operation has been shut down, and interestingly, two have popped up literally within a stone’s throw of the defunct site.
“Countywide, we have noted an increase in the number of sites, and those sites are holding more birds.”
While the Humane Society of the U.S. remains conspicuous by silence, several other relatively small organizations have pitched in alongside SHARK to flush out whatever is going on in Monterey County and why.
“The Humane Farming Association is partnering with SHARK on this issue, sharing costs, assisting with media contacts, lobbying, etc.,” HFA founder Brad Miller told ANIMALS 24-7. “And, yes, there does appear to be something very dicey going on with county officials. We’re currently exploring legal options and other avenues to hold county officials accountable for their indefensible, and highly-suspect, non-enforcement of existing law.”
Drone video led to grand jury
The Monterey County Grand Jury investigation originated, says the grand jury report, after a “complainant,” believed to be Hindi or another SHARK team member, “who had become aware of an illegal rooster keeping operation and possible dog fighting ring in North Monterey County, tried to no avail to bring this issue to the attention of four different Monterey County agencies” between June 21, 2018 and August 10, 2018.
“The complainant then called The Monterey County Weekly who published an article on August 30, 2018. The publication of the article became the catalyst that brought the problem of illegal rooster keeping to the attention of the agencies who are tasked to understand or enforce” the county ordinance, three years after the ordinance was on the books.
“Unfortunately,” the grand jury found, “Monterey County agencies are operating under a process, created by Environmental Health Bureau, that effectively modifies the implementation and enforcement of the ordinance. As a result, agencies are confused about their roles, have been poorly trained, and the public does not know where to turn to have their concerns addressed.
“Lack of leadership & oversight”
“The Monterey County Civil Grand Jury found,” it reported, that implementation and enforcement of the ordinance failed due to three main reasons: Lack of leadership and oversight from the Board of Supervisors and the Health Department; the hindrance to implementation and enforcement created by a process developed by Environmental Health Bureau; and the unwillingness of multiple agencies to enforce it.
“We learned,” the grand jury said, “that, with the exception of Animal Control Services, agencies required to understand this ordinance reported never having completely read it.
“Staff within the Environmental Health Bureau instructed animal control officers to not enforce the ordinance. Although rooster keeping permits must be renewed annually, no permit is current in Monterey County as of the writing of this report.
“Upon passage [of the ordinance], the Department of Environmental Health issued 14 permits between September 28, 2015 and July 20, 2016. Nine applicants were charged a permit fee. Five applicants had their permit fee waived at the discretion of the Director of Environmental Health,” the grand jury recounted.
“Used individual from known illegal rooster-keeping operation as resource”
“From 2010 to November 2018, Animal Control Services was managed and directed by the Environmental Health Bureau,” the grand jury report explains. “It must be noted that in November 2018, while the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury was conducting this investigation, the leadership and oversight of Animal Control Services was transferred out of Environmental Health and made its own division within the Monterey County Health Department.”
“At the time of the writing of this ordinance,” the grand jury report continued, “Animal Control Services was under the management of the Environmental Health Bureau. Environmental Health was tasked with writing the ordinance without having the necessary qualifications and expertise in animal welfare, domestic or livestock. The author’s background is in hazardous waste management. The author used an individual from a known local illegal rooster keeping operation as the resource for writing the ordinance. Animal Control Services was never consulted or included during the ordinance writing process.
How 31 days became first a year & then never
“Each agency [involved] knew little about which had jurisdiction or how to enforce the ordinance,” the grand jury wrote. “The Monterey County Sheriff’s Office could not make an arrest unless a cockfight was in progress. Animal Control Services reported that they were prohibited from issuing citations by the Director of the Environmental Health Bureau. The Resource Management Agency could not issue citations for illegal rooster keeping, but could issue citations for code violations for inadequately constructed animal enclosures. The Monterey County SPCA could not issue citations for illegal rooster keeping, but could issue citations for cruelty and neglect of roosters, which could lead to possible prosecution by the District Attorney.
“The ordinance,” as passed, “gave a definitive timeline of 31 days from its adoption to become effective and 180 days to be fully implemented,” the grand jury reminded.
“The Environmental Health Department created a one-year ‘soft rollout’ before fully implementing or enforcing it. At the end of the soft roll out year it was still not fully implemented or enforced, and four years later, the ordinance is still not being implemented or enforced.”
“The Environmental Health Bureau created a multi-step process that modified the provisions originally outlined,” the grand jury charged, under the headline “Ordinance Circumvented.”
“The author of that process injected three additional agencies into the ordinance process that were not named in the original text,” including the Resource Management Agency, the Monterey County SPCA, and the County Counsel.
The grand jury pointed out the possible public health risks resulting from non-enforcement of the regulations pertaining to rooster-keeping.
“Viral Newcastle disease is common worldwide. Currently California is experiencing a severe outbreak which is rapidly spreading to Northern California counties,” the grand jury recited. “As of the end of 2018, there were six million documented cases in Los Angeles County alone. During the week of March 25, 2019, the Salinas Valley Fair, the Monterey County Fair, and the California Mid State Fair canceled all poultry exhibitions due to this disease. Highly contagious, it is an acute respiratory disease that is spread easily among avian populations both wild and domestic.
“This disease kills poultry,” the grand jury emphasized. “The primary way this disease spreads is by moving roosters that have the disease. Particularly devastating to domestic poultry, it has been known to wipe out whole commercial poultry operations. This disease is also transmittable to humans via clothing and avian contact, resulting in conjunctivitis and influenza-like symptoms. Viral Newcastle disease can be present in roosters before symptoms are present.
“No one was enforcing the ordinance”
“The SPCA of Monterey County,” the grand jury noted, “although named in the multi-step process established by the Director of Environmental Health, was not contacted, trained, or otherwise made aware of their involuntary inclusion in this process. It was after contact by the complainant,” whose actions instigated the grand jury investigation, “that the SPCA began contacting county agencies to resolve the complaint, only to discover that no one was enforcing the ordinance. The Environmental Health Bureau provided information that indicated that no one had been issued a permit [to keep roosters] since July 2016.”
The grand jury found that blame for non-enforcement went all the way to the top. “The Ordinance was passed before many of the current Monterey County Supervisors were in office,” the grand jury report explained. “The [current] Supervisors were not aware there was a problem with illegal rooster keeping, except within the Boronda area of North Monterey County. The Supervisors were unaware an ordinance they passed was not being enforced.”
Slow-walking against cocking
The Monterey County Civil Grand Jury made two visits to one location where some effort has been made since September 2018 to enforce the rooster-keeping ordinance on a property sublet by the landowner to “various owners” of “hundreds of roosters.”
Reported the grand jury, “Each owner constructed his/her own substandard enclosures. Having no jurisdiction over the number of roosters being kept, the Resource Management Agency cited for substandard enclosures and zoning violations. There were piles of manure, an abandoned motor vehicle, and various piles of debris. The RMA policy is to encouraging compliance, not enforcement. The compliance process has been painstaking and slow.
“In January 2019, after months of extensions for compliance, forty to fifty roosters were still remaining,” the grand jury wrote. “A large pile of debris, measuring approximately fifty yards by 20 yards and seven feet high, was observed. Efforts were made to conceal the rooster enclosures and rooster keeping with locked fencing. The debris pile consisted of animal manure, scrap plywood, wire, concrete, and other miscellaneous materials.
“Dog chained to a tree”
“An individual was living in an illegal, crudely constructed shanty on county property to the rear of the homeowner, with a dog chained to a tree.
An abandoned dilapidated trailer was on the property. The illegal rooster keeping operation is located adjacent to a property with a childcare facility.”
Among the recommendations concluding the grand jury report were that “A dedicated Assistant District Attorney for animal cruelty cases is crucial to keeping up with enforcement and prosecution in Monterey County,” and that “Ample revenues to cover additional staff could be generated from permitting and enforcement from rooster-keeping application and permitting fees,” assuming, of course, that some of the currently illegal rooster-keeping is not associated with cockfighting.