Like busting the hash pipes but not the hashish
WASHINGTON D.C.––U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents at the United Parcel Service Worldport in Louisville, Kentucky on January 17, 2023 intercepted 120 cockfighting spurs and two leg attachment sheaths “marked as handcrafted Mexican artisan rattles” sent from Mexico City to an address in Illinois, WDRB television news reported.
The rare interdiction of cockfighting-related postal traffic again spurred the question when, if ever, the taxpayer-funded U.S. Postal Service is going to obey federal law on the books since 2007 by intercepting shipments of live gamefowl.
Alleged gamefowl dropped off like junk mail
About two weeks after the seizure of cockfighting spurs at the Louisville U.S. Parcel Service facility, the Illinois-based animal advocacy organization Showing Animals Respect & Kindness posted to https://youtu.be/0XcEdLOvo3M a video of Melinda Fairchild, wife of fighting cock breeder and self-admitted cockfighter Bobby Fairchild, delivering a carload of alleged young gamefowl to the U.S. Post Office in Coalgate, Oklahoma, to be sent by mail to an address in Texas.
The legal obstacle to the U.S. Postal Service impounding that and other alleged illegal mailings of gamefowl is that while U.S. law prohibits interstate transport of gamecocks and cockfighting paraphernalia, the U.S. Postal Service has also been required by law to transport poultry for farmers since 1918.
Chickens, ducks, emus, & geese
U.S. Postal Service regulation 526, “Mailable Live Animals,” explains that “The following live, day–old animals are acceptable for mailing when properly packaged: chickens, ducks, emus, geese, guinea birds, partridges, pheasants (only during April through August), quail, and turkeys. All other types of live, day–old poultry are non-mailable.”
Postal regulation 526 goes on to detail exactly how live birds and other “mailable” animals are to be handled, and when.
Adult birds may be mailed via Priority Mail Express if weighing less than 25 pounds. This is more than twice the weight of a typical fighting gamecock.
Don’t know a cock if they see it
The U.S. Postal Service forbids transporting any “live animal for the purpose of participating in an animal-fighting venture,” but unless a parcel explicitly identifies itself as containing gamefowl, postal employees have no way to distinguish birds mailed for one purpose from birds mailed for another.
The Humane Farming Association and United Poultry Concerns, among many other animal advocacy organizations, have called for the abolition of live bird transport via the U.S. Postal Service for more than 30 years, to little avail.
Simply put, the poultry industry has a lot more legislative clout than does animal advocacy.
Murder most fowl
Cockfighting, on the other hand, is already illegal in all U.S. states and territories, and is closely associated with a variety of other crimes including drug trafficking and murder.
Much of the money behind cockfighting is drug money re-invested in breeding and selling gamecocks, a traffic conducted chiefly by mail.
Shutting down that traffic may require either getting the U.S. Postal Service out of the poultry transporting business entirely, or giving the U.S. Postal Service expanded inspection authority plus a means of quickly, easily, and inexpensively distinguishing gamecocks from other birds in transit.
Can either option be accomplished? Maybe, if law enforcement supports the effort.
Guam orders takeout
Animal Wellness Action president Wayne Pacelle on January 7, 2020 spotlighted the use of the U.S. Postal Service by gamefowl breeders sending fighting cocks to Guam, a U.S. island territory in the Pacific Ocean.
Cockfighting is common on Guam, and relatively openly practiced, despite being just as illegal there, since the federal cockfighting ban was extended to all U.S territories in December 2019, as it would be if practiced in the halls of Congress.
According to “avian shipping records formally obtained from Guam’s Department of Agriculture,” Pacelle said, spotlighting the scale of the traffic that would have to be stopped to implement the federal ban, “cockfighters from the U.S. mainland made more than 500 illegal transports of fighting birds to customers on Guam,” sending “nearly 9,000 birds to Guam in a 33-month period – translating into an illegal shipment, on average, every other day.
Major traffic still
“There were 71 people who exported cockfighting roosters to Guam during this period,” Pacelle elaborated, “with shippers from Oklahoma, California, Hawaii, North Carolina, and Alabama accounting for 75% of the 8,800 birds sent to Guam. The top five individual shippers accounted for 52% of all shipments.”
The export of gamefowl to Guam from the U.S. thereafter significantly slowed, yet was still significant.
“Data obtained by Animal Wellness Action from the Guam Department of Agriculture (GDA) revealed a total of 2,138 fighting animals transported to Guam in 2021,” AWA said in 2022.
But enforcement remained spotty.
“In the first two months of 2022,” Animal Wellness Action said, “Guam officials granted import permits for dozens of birds to John and Brenda Bottoms and Bill McNatt of southeast Oklahoma. These individuals are not legitimate agricultural producers; they are known cockfighters,” AWA charged.
Ban mailing mature roosters?
Since November 16, 2022, Animal Wellness Action has recommended amendments to Section 26 of the Animal Welfare Act which Pacelle believes “would ban simulcasting and gambling on animal fights in the United States, no matter where the fights and broadcasts originate; halt the shipment of mature roosters through the U.S. mail; create a citizen-suit provision to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters and ease the resource burden on federal agencies, and enhance forfeiture provisions to include real property used in the commission of an animal-fighting crime.”
Halting the shipment of mature roosters through the mail, as Animal Wellness Action suggests, could much more easily be done than halting all bird mailings.
One way to stop the fighting rooster traffic without either requiring postal workers to be experts in bird recognition, or interfering significantly in other bird commerce, would be to simply lower the weight limit for birds in the mail from the present 25 pounds to just five pounds.
Demand for investigation came to nothing
That, however, would scarcely satisfy all humane concerns about mailing birds, most of whom are hatchlings, or “peepers,” and many of whom are mailed as eggs but hatch in transit.
Changes to U.S. Postal Service policy and practice implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, appointed in May 2020 by then-U.S. President Donald Trump and left in place by current President Joe Biden, markedly increased the frequency and volume of bird deaths in transit.
Chellie Pingree, a Democrat representing Maine’s Second Congressional District, on August 21, 2020 led 23 fellow members of the House of Representatives in asking DeJoy and Sonny Perdue, then the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, to “investigate the recent deaths of thousands of mail-order chicks,” and to take “immediate action to rectify this issue.”
What came of that? Apparently nothing.
Oklahoma, where the bull feathers come sweeping down the plain
The hub of the mail-order gamecock breeding industry meanwhile appears to be Oklahoma, where the traffic has been extensively documented by both Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, with Humane Farming Association support, and Animal Wellness Action.
Oklahoma state representative Justin Humphrey, a Republican rancher from Lane, a barely-on-the-map town in Atoka County, has again in 2023 reintroduced HB 2530, which would legalize cockfighting without the use of spurs and would reduce the penalty for cockfighting with spurs to a misdemeanor punished only by light fines.
The same bill failed during the 2022 legislative session.
“Humiliating, as an Oklahoman”
The Oklahoma house of representatives tilts Republican, 81-20, as does the state senate, 40-8, which would appear to favor Humphrey, but the number of winning candidates endorsed by the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission dropped by two in the November 2022 election.
“It is humiliating as an Oklahoman and distressing to someone like me who has been involved in law enforcement for 10 years as a district attorney and 16 years as attorney general,” former Oklahoma attorney general Drew Edmondson told Jack Money of The Oklahoman on February 3, 2023, “to see this kind of blatant law violation going on in my home state.”
Cockfighting, Edmonson emphasized, “is a breach of law enforcement, and when law enforcement is corrupted, respect for law enforcement goes down.”