by Steve Hindi, founder, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) launched our “Crush Cockfighting” campaign in 2018.
Cockfighting at that time had never been seriously impacted by animal advocacy, contrary to myths spread by those raising money off the issue.
Cockfighting has twice been made illegal nationwide. The first time was in the early twentieth century. That step forward did not last. Cockfighting was allowed to revive as a negotiating tool in ending Prohibition.
They didn’t finish the job
In the early 21st Century, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), while headed by Wayne Pacelle (2004-2018), restored and reinforced the lost cockfighting bans in state after state.
Pacelle and HSUS deserve credit for that effort, but only to the degree that it made it possible to legally stop cockfighting. The true battle was just beginning, and in that regard Pacelle and HSUS chose to not even make an effort.
Like the inept vigilantes in the Clint Eastwood western Hang ‘Em High!, Pacelle and HSUS hung the wrong man and they didn’t finish the job. Worse, they knew they hadn’t finished the job, but nevertheless declared victory, went home, and collected their donations. Pacelle and HSUS allowed cockfighting to not just rebound, but to flourish.
The “right man” was corrupt law enforcement
The “right man” wasn’t just the offense of cockfighting itself, but the corrupt system of spotty-at-best humane law enforcement that allows local sheriffs and state trooper posts to decide for themselves what state laws to enforce, without effective accountability to any higher authority.
As SHARK’s Crush Cockfighting campaign has proven over and over, in state after state, good laws without good law enforcement are pointless.
Finishing the job would have required assigning field investigators and lawyers to discover cockfights, bring them to the attention of law enforcement, expose them publicly, and if needed, sue law enforcement agencies who ignore cockfights until they do their jobs.
That is exactly what SHARK is doing right now, with the help of the Humane Farming Association, and without the millions of dollars of HSUS and Pacelle’s new group, Animal Wellness Action. The impact we have made with the Humane Farming Association’s help is very real, not merely a fundraising claim.
Laws existing only on the books are easily ignored
What Pacelle and HSUS never told you during their long campaign to re-establish laws against cockfighting was that the mere passing of laws never stopped or even slowed down the cockfighting industry, and never will, because laws existing only on the books are easily ignored by corrupt law enforcement.
Effective law enforcement against cockfighting requires having people on the job whose first priority is shutting down cockfights. This is similar to regular, ongoing law enforcement programs against domestic violence, illegal drug use, and automobile theft, to name just a few other categories of specialized crime fighting. Real enforcement requires specialized personnel focused on ending these offenses.
In the course of our fight, we have come to know a number of retired cockfighters who experienced a change of heart. They have helped us locate and expose cockfight pits, but through them we have also learned ugly truths about our own side, like the reality of making cockfighting stronger by declaring victory when the job of eradicating cockfighting is unfinished.
“Local police became cockfighters’ private security”
The reality of the so-called “bans” on cockfighting is that when cockfighting was made illegal in the various states, cockfighters had plenty of notice. They had all the time in the world to build and prepare alternative cockfighting sites.
Unlike most so-called animal activists, animal abusers are committed to doing whatever it takes to accomplish their goals, especially if they are making money in the process. They actually follow through.
Since cockfighters are willing to get their hands dirty, they had alternative locations ready to go by the time the legal cockpits were shut down. For every site shut down when the laws changed, at least one alternative location started up, and local police forces became cockfighters’ private security.
It was like changing signs on a storefront; not a big deal, and easily amortized as just a cost of doing business.
Other crooks use the cockpits too
The police made out too. Once cockfights became illegal, corrupt local law enforcement agencies could charge the cockpits for protection, just as their predecessors charged speakeasies for protection during Prohibition.
For corrupt police in many parts of the country, making cockfighting illegal was one of the best things that could have happened.
With corrupt police now part of the cockfighting mafia, other crooks could use the cockpits too, as conduits for drug trafficking, gun running, prostitution, and whatever other illicit operations their little criminal minds could conceive.
Like a disease that grows exponentially following an inadequate regimen of antibiotics, the disease of cockfighting came on bigger, and stronger than ever.
“Declared victory & went home”
Pacelle and HSUS surely knew the ugly reality of a continued, and metastasizing cockfighting mafia.
It was absolutely vital that as soon as the laws they sought were in place, the investigative and legal work necessary to end cockfighting for real was begun.
They had the resources, but made the choice to leave the field of battle.
Instead, Pacelle and HSUS simply declared victory and went home to count the donations of the ignorant and gullible. For them, it was time to move on to the next cash cow issue. This is the unforgivable sin.
Countering what has become an enormous criminal empire absolutely requires a frontline effort to expose cockfight pits, and to expose the police who choose to protect the criminals. Neither Wayne Pacelle or HSUS have the stones for this difficult, dangerous work.
“Too damned lazy”
Neither HSUS or AWA personnel want to venture from their comfortable offices. They won’t put themselves at risk. Unlike the cockfighters, HSUS, Animal Wellness Action, and most other supposed animal protection organizations are too damned lazy to do what needs to be done to successfully eradicate the disease.
The result has been decades of needless animal slaughter, and a cockfighting industry even more entrenched than when it was legal.
This is why Showing Animals Respect & Kindness became involved.
For a small organization involved in other national campaigns and suffering from extremely limited personnel and resources, the drain of a nationwide cockfight campaign is very significant.
Our efforts have impacted the nationwide network of cockfighters like no anti-cockfighting campaign the animal protection industry has ever before mounted.
Cockfighters in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Ohio, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, West Virginia, California and Alabama have all felt SHARK’s bite, and going forward, more will.
Our people are undercover in the cockpits. Cockfighters previously hidden in wooded areas, on private property, and up mountains or secluded in “hollers” are now exposed by our drones.
We are personally at the state police posts and country sheriff’s offices, pushing for enforcement. It’s an uphill battle all the way. If we fail to maintain our effort, we will make the same mistake of Wayne Pacelle and HSUS.
“If cancer is not cut out, it will return”
SHARK’s goal is not to knock cockfighting down, but rather to eradicate the disease. If the cancer is not cut out in its entirety, it will return. That is a fact. Our goal is to Crush Cockfighting.
Cockfighters are violent career criminals. As such, they threaten us, and their threats are serious. We have been attacked and put in the hospital. We try to take precautions, but we understand and accept that frontline work includes risk. The success we have experienced for nonhumans makes us willing to accept the risks.
Because cockfights are again illegal throughout the United States, as they were in our grandparents’ time, we knew from the start of our Crush Cockfighting campaign that this blood sport can only thrive in places where the police and politicians, and even judges and lawmakers, are complicit.
“Humane Farming Association legal effort is paying off”
Regardless, SHARK, with much appreciated assistance with expenses from the Humane Farming Association, has shaken the cockfighting world from one end of the country to the other.
The Humane Farming Association also paid for legal action against illegal rooster farms in Monterey, California, and that effort is paying off.
The Humane Society of the U.S., meanwhile, has been almost entirely invisible in response to cockfighting during our four years of activity, including the HSUS office in the cockfighting stronghold of Kentucky.
Now Wayne Pacelle has announced that Animal Wellness Action has hired people to work on the cockfighting issue in Kentucky. Not frontline activists, of course, but rather, lobbyist types: bureaucrats. Pacelle promises he is going to change the law, but the law has already been changed.
“The real problem is not the law, but the lack of enforcement”
Perhaps Pacelle forgot about all the bragging he has done about changing the law. Surely he has not forgotten that the real problem is not the law, but the lack of enforcement, as a result of his lack of action when it counted.
Mere legislation has never stopped cockfighting, and it never will.
Facebook and YouTube posts can help focus attention on the issue, but this alone won’t stop cockfighting.
Giving money to organizations who lie about their work or its effectiveness won’t stop cockfighting.
Even sporadic high-profile federal busts alone won’t stop cockfighting without on-the-ground effort to mobilize local law enforcement to do its job.
If this movement is serious about ending cockfighting, it would support, or at least emulate, the frontline work SHARK has been conducting since 2018.
The time for talk is over. There is lots and lots of work ahead. The good news is that if we truly and faithfully take on the challenge, victory is assured. Anything less than true commitment to Crush Cockfighting will fail, just as it has in the past.