NEW YORK – To the uninitiated, the paraphernalia found at the scene of an animal abuse bust – candle wax, medical tape, syringes – sounded more like something from a drug case. But investigators said it was a telltale sign of an underground cockfighting ring that exploited roosters by doping and arming them for battles to the death.
The state attorney general’s office and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals on Monday were sorting through the evidence – including as many as 3,000 roosters and hens bred and kept at a farm in upstate Ulster County – in what they called the largest cockfighting takedown in state history. The birds were being secured and cared for while needed as criminal evidence, but they face an uncertain future after that.
Though the hens might get homes, fighting roosters “are extremely hard to rehabilitate and place, almost impossible, because they’re bred for aggression,” ASPCA chief officer Matthew Bershadker said.
Over the weekend, state investigators aided by the ASPCA arrested at least nine people in raids at the farm, a pet shop in Brooklyn and a secret cockfighting pit in a basement location in Queens. The people were arraigned Sunday on multiple counts of illegal animal fighting.
A criminal complaint suggested that cockfighting is well established in the region. It says a confidential informant told investigators that in the past 10 years he had bred, trained and fought roosters throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. He also “attended hundreds of cockfighting events and observed over 1,000 individual cockfights,” it adds.
The birds were subjected to cruelty that began with their owners removing the red, fleshy parts around their heads and necks, removing feathers from their chests to make it easier for them to strike, and injecting them with steroids and vitamins to amp them up for fights, investigators said.
Next, the medical tape and wax were used to attach artificial spurs as sharp as razor blades. Stuffed roosters used for training were found at the Brooklyn pet store.
The cockfights in the Queens basement were all-night affairs, with organizers posting private security at the door, charging admission, selling booze and allowing open drug use, authorities said. After matching up roosters by weighing them on a scale, dozens of spectators would wager up to $10,000 on dozens of fights that ultimately left the basement littered with dead or dying roosters, they said.
“It’s a really brutal activity,” Bershadker said. “Some people might say, ‘Oh it’s just birds.’ But they’re sentient beings. They have the capacity to suffer.”