In a twisted way, the roughly 800 roosters found recently at a cock-breeding facility in Nipomo are lucky birds. Theyâ€™re lucky because now theyâ€™ll most likely be put to death quickly instead of dying in a ring from punctured lungs, broken bones, and pierced eyes, victims of their nature and of the men who bred them to fight.
Â â€œTheyâ€™ve been saved from being hacked to death,â€? said Eric Sakach, director of the West Coast Regional Office of the Humane Society of the United States.
Â The birds were found after San Luis Obispo sheriffâ€™s deputies received a call from PG&E workers reporting gunshots on Joshua Road in Nipomo on February 7. When the deputies arrived on the scene, they discovered a fighting-cock breeding operation just down the road.
Â Deputies found 70 birds at the first location and arrested Jesus Valencia, 36, and Jose Valencia, 44, on suspicion of raising fighting cocks and possession of cockfighting implements. That farm, however, was just the beginning.
Â According to Sgt. Brian Hascall of the San Luis Obispo Sheriffâ€™s Department, deputies found multiple gamecock breeding operations scattered over 10 acres near Joshua Road. In his opinion, he says, the other alleged owners didnâ€™t think that any law officials were coming back, because when deputies returned on February 13â€”with animal control officers, an animal health technician from the USDA, and, most importantly, a warrant â€” they found a huge breeding operation.
Â On their second trip, the officials found an estimated 800 to 900 birds and arrested Carlos Martinez, 26, on suspicion of raising fighting cocks and possession of cockfighting implements. Two other men â€” Jose Rico, 22, and Carlos Rodriguez, 37 â€” were cited for possessing fighting cocks and released.
Â â€œIt kind of boggles the mind, these types of numbers,â€? saus Hascall. â€œItâ€™s the biggest [cock-breeding facility] Iâ€™ve seen in 16 years.â€?
Â Deputies booked into evidence the cockfighting implements â€” spurs that attach to roostersâ€™ legs â€” and authorities confiscated five birds. The USDA also took samples for avian flu and other types of communicable diseases, Hascall says, though heâ€™s unsure when the test results will be available.
Â For now, the roosters will be left on the farms on which they were found, as the county doesnâ€™t have facilities to keep 800 birds. In the long run, Hascall points out, the roosters will probably be put to death, a common fate for fighting cocks found in raids.
Â â€œUnfortunately, because of their breeding and temperament, theyâ€™re not desirable,â€? the Humane Societyâ€™s Sakach says. â€œTheyâ€™re not something that a normal farmer would want on their property.â€?
Â Sakach stresses that the blame for the birdâ€™s deaths should be put solely on the people who bred them to fight, not on law enforcement officials.
Â According to Sakach, such breeders and cockfight organizers are drawn to California because of the stateâ€™s lenient laws against cockfighting. In California, cockfighting is a misdemeanor, as is attending a cockfight and owning the implements used in a cockfight. Hascall says the men arrested in connection with the Nipomo breeding operation can receive a maximum sentence of six months to a year in prison and a fine.
Â In 32 states â€” including every state bordering California â€”Â cockfighting is a felony offense. Californiaâ€™s threat of a mere misdemeanor lures cockfighters to the state, Sakach says.
Â And that lure brings with it more than an increased risk of avian flu. Because of the gambling and large amounts of money often present at cockfights, participants tend to bring firearms, as well as narcotics, according to the Humane Society of the United States.
Â Currently, several groups are trying to make cockfighting a felony offense in the state. Sen. Nell Soto, D-Ontario, sponsored a bill that made it through the Senate and the Assembly but died in appropriations, Sakach says. He mentioned that Soto plans to re-introduce the bill later this year.
Â The Humane Society of the United States website contains information on Final Round, its long-running campaign against cockfighting and dog fighting. The program is designed to familiarize people with the issues of animal cruelty and related gambling. Sakach also emphasizes that the Humane Society has a standing $2,500 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction for perpetrators of cockfighting or dog fighting. Visit www.hsus.org for more information.
Â The Nipomo breeding farm will continue to be a subject of investigation for the sheriffâ€™s rural crime deputies, who want to determine where the birds were destined to ultimately end up. Hascall says the sheriffâ€™s department will go after any individuals in the county involved in cockfighting.
Â â€œWe seriously discourage this type of behavior,â€? he says. â€œItâ€™s illegal and cruel to the animals.â€? âˆ†
Staff Writer Sarah E. Thien of New Times sister paper, the Santa Maria Sun, can be reachedÂ at email@example.com.