Society

Cockfighting: Utah Bill Would Make Cockfighting a Felony; Cockfighters Fight Back

| by Phyllis M Daugherty

Senate Bill 112, which passed the Utah Senate last month by an 18-5 vote and passed the House committee last week 7-2, will increase the penalty for cockfighting from a class B to a class A misdemeanor, and make it a third-degree felony offense on the second conviction.

Penalties for a second conviction could be punishable by up to five years in prison.

The Richfield Reaper, a publication "serving South Central Utah since 1888," believes cockfighters deserve a chance to fight back, and conducted interviews to give some insight into their side of this issue. Missing from the discussion, however, is mention of the lucrative gambling revenue that fuels this blood sport and how much that potential loss influences their opinions.

Dick Weeks, a rooster owner in Sevier County, told the Reaper he doesn’t see fighting roosters as a problem, but rather something that has happened for generations throughout the state. He forecasts, "It isn’t going anywhere."

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“I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old,” Weeks said. “I have roosters whose lines I can trace back to the 1950s. They’ve been with me forever.”

Weeks noted that raising the birds is more for him than making them fight — it’s a hobby and an investment.

“I have a buddy who likes to golf, but he can’t eat them golf balls,” he said. “These chickens have paid my mortgage more than once.”

“It’s my personal business .There are people in all walks of life who fight birds. It’s a lifestyle,” he said.

Weeks explained that he harvests eggs and butchers some of the birds to eat, while others are bred for fighting, which makes them more valuable.

Weeks said, to him, SB 112, is being perpetrated by interests that don’t understand it, and whom he believes have "ulterior motives."

The Reaper then photographed Jamon White holding one of his roosters as another leaped up high to challenge it on Monday. White has a chicken farm near Richfield and raises gamecocks for sport, according to the Reaper.

White said proposed legislation to tighten restrictions on cockfighting seeks to destroy a family tradition spanning more than four generations

THE NATURE OF GAMECOCKS & COCKFIGHTERS

White says his family's involvement in cockfighting began when his great-grandfather, Max White, bought a rooster, and took it to a fight 60 years ago.

“It’s been in the family, and it’s something I’ve grown up around and took an interest to,” White said. “I married into it, too. My father-in-law raises roosters.”

“Everything that I’ve grown up and love, they’re trying to take it away,” White said. “I want my son to be able to enjoy it, too.”

Now, with his children entering a fifth generation raising fowl, White said he is concerned legislation pushing stiffer penalties on the sport will destroy that family tradition for his posterity.

“Everything that I’ve grown up and love, they’re trying to take it away,” White said. “I want my son to be able to enjoy it, too.”

According to White, the sport is nothing more than using them for their God-given purpose. He said he has never had to train a bird to attack, it’s just what it does naturally.

“They’re meant to fight,” White said. “They’re aggressive, it’s their nature. If I put two roosters next to each other, they’ll fight — it’s bred into them. I defy you to make two of these birds fight. If they don’t want to fight, there’s nothing stopping them from leaving.”

Like any game animal, White said when it’s breeding season, roosters seek to assert their dominance to woo their potential mates. He said he treats his birds with the best care possible. “Compared to most animals, these birds are spoiled,” White said.

OPPOSING VIEWS ON CRUELTY

Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis told the Reaper that there are more pressing issues for his department, and cockfighting is something that has never come up as a problem.

Sheriff Curtis said while some people look it as cruel and unusual punishment, there are many issues involving animals and people that could be seen as much more cruel and abusive.

“Sometimes, our laws are a little backwards; you can get a stiffer penalty for beating a dog than a person,” Curtis said.

“We haven’t had any trouble from anyone [regarding cockfighting],” he said. “Zero complaints.”

The State Director for The Humane Society (HSUS) stated that, upon passage of SB 112 from the House committee Thursday, Utah was one step closer to having “meaningful punishment” for cockfighting.

John Goodwin, director of animal cruelty policy for the Humane Society of the United States, says cockfighting is a cruel practice that ought to be eliminated in a civil society.

"There are a lot of animal issues out there that people can discuss and debate, but cockfighting -- like dogfighting -- is one of those issues where animals suffer and die for something that has no socially redeemable value whatsoever. There really is no logical defense for cockfighting."

Source: The Richfield Reaper