Weak Tennessee cockfighting penalties boost the price of eggs
MAYNARDVILLE, Tennessee––Ninety-eight alleged cockfighters were cited and approximately 250 gamecocks were seized by the Union County Sheriff’s Office near Maynardville, Tennessee on January 28, 2023.
Yet none of the ninety-eight suspects went to jail. All were released after paying $50 fines.
All of them got their birds back, after the Union County Humane Society professed insufficient cage space and personnel to impound them, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi told ANIMALS 24-7.
At that, all 98 alleged cockfighters received the maximum penalty currently allowed by Tennessee law.
The remainder of the planned day-long cockfighting derby was cancelled.
Cockfighting handled like a parking ticket
“Tennessee is one of only eight states without felony-level penalties for cockfighting, and considers the crime a Class A misdemeanor,” explained Ella Wales of WATE-TV in Knoxville.
“The raid in Maynardville gained attention nationally and animal rights groups are calling for Tennessee lawmakers to tackle the issue,” Wales added.
“Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, has been working on a national campaign to end cockfighting,” Wales said.
Offered Pacelle, “If it’s a crime, it should be treated in a serious-minded way. Don’t waste the sheriff’s time, don’t waste the time of the people throughout Tennessee by giving them a slap on the wrist, when this is calculated animal cruelty.”
“You’d face jail time”
Tennessee state senator Jon Lundberg of Bristol, and state representative Sam Whitson, of Franklin, recently introduced bills to raise the penalty for cockfighting and related activities in Tennessee to the felony level.
“It would be a lot more than just a $50 fine and go home,” Lundberg told Wales. “You’d face jail time, and that’s really an important detriment to this activity.”
Lundberg pointed toward other criminal pursuits closely associated with cockfighting.
“If you’re going to have a cockfight,” Lundberg said, “you don’t just want to see two roosters killing each other. You want to gamble. If you want to gamble, you’re probably going to be drinking or doing drugs, and people are bringing their kids.”
Children attended the Maynardville cockfight
Lundberg said three children were found, along with the 98 alleged cockfighters, by the Maynardville raid.
Noted Wales, “The raid wasn’t far from the Union County Humane Society. Executive director Tammy Rouse said the practice has been going on in the area for years.”
Said Rouse, “These malicious crimes against animals should not be tolerated, and we are immensely grateful to Sheriff Billy Breeding for taking action against these staged fights.”
“Going on for decades”
Elaborated Sam Luther of WVLT in Knoxville, “On Little Valley Road, between Maynardville and Sharps Chapel, neighbors said they’ve seen and heard about cockfighting going on for decades.
“Those same neighbors added that at times upward of $100,000 is being exchanged in these cockfights, that happen usually every other weekend, with winners at times making more than $20,000.”
So why were the cockfights between Maynardville and Sharps Chapel apparently never before busted?
Neither the ANIMALS 24-7 archives, nor NewspaperArchive.com, nor Google includes any evident mention of a cockfight ever having been raided in Union County, Tennessee––not in the 19th century, not in the 20th century, and certainly not within the 22-plus years so far of the 21st century.
Drones produced the evidence
Weak penalties are one obvious reason why law enforcement has not previously moved against cockfights that supposedly much of the county knew were frequently happening.
Lack of specific information about where and when the cockfights were held was supposedly another.
Testified Luther, “The animal rights group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, better known as SHARK, played a key role in the investigation [leading to the January 28, 2023 raid] by providing the sheriff’s office with a drone video they shot of the cockfighting operation and gathering taking place.”
“Not the only pit we know about”
Explained Hindi to Wales, “Cockfights are illegal everywhere, so the cockfighters put them in places where you can’t see them from the road. Our drones make it very easy to find out what’s going on.”
Said Hindi to ANIMALS 24-7, “That’s not the only pit in Tennessee that we know about.”
Wealth of information
Earlier SHARK operations against cockfighting in Alabama, California, Illinois, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma, Hindi indicated, have produced a wealth of information about cockfighters and cockfighting locations throughout the United States.
Hindi pledged to maintain surveillance of as many of these cockfighting operations as the SHARK budget permits. The SHARK drone investigations of cockfighting are partially funded by the California-based Humane Farming Association, and otherwise just by passing the hat, chiefly through the SHARK electronic newsletters and YouTube channel.
“Cockfighting drives outbreaks”
Animal Wellness Action and the affiliated Center for a Humane Economy are optimistic that the severity of recent disease outbreaks afflicting the $556 billion a year U.S. poultry industry will help encourage Tennessee and the seven other states that currently lack felony penalties for cockfighting to adopt felony penalties during their respective 2023 legislative sessions.
“Cockfighting drives outbreaks of serious poultry and zoonotic diseases, especially virulent Newcastle disease and highly pathogenic avian influenza viruses [H5N1],” Center for a Humane Economy director of veterinary science Jim Keen told media after the Maynardville cockfighting raid.
And here is what it has to do with the price of eggs
Ten of the 15 known introductions of virulent Newcastle disease to the U.S. since 1950 spread from gamefowl smuggled into the U.S. in connection with cockfighting, Keen said.
“The current outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza has resulted in the mass killing of 60 million birds, mainly laying hens,” the McDowell News reported, from Marion, North Carolina, county seat of McDowell County.
“That extraordinary loss of life has driven a surge in egg prices,” the McDowell News added, lest any readers wonder what cockfighting has to do with the price of eggs.