By Wayne Pacelle
Yesterday, The HSUS assisted the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department in a major raid of a suspected cockfighting operation in Yucaipa, Calif. Led by Eric Sakach, our senior law enforcement specialist, The HSUS had several members of its team on hand for the operation. John Goodwin, our manager for Animal Fighting Issues, was also there and I've asked him to give us a first-hand account.
Working on information The HSUS provided, deputies acted to dismantle an alleged cockfighting operation being run by Mike and Bertha Mitchell under the moniker of Dandy Game Fowl.
Several months earlier, Mr. Mitchell gave an extensive interview in the Mexican cockfighting magazine Pie de Cria, in which he boasted of breeding and selling roosters to cockfighting rings in Mexico.
If Mitchell’s statements to Pie de Cria are true, then he may have violated not only California law, but also the federal statute (drafted by and lobbied into law by The HSUS) that makes the foreign export of fighting animals a felony.
Arriving at the property, we found hundreds of roosters, either tethered to plastic barrel housing or inside solitary cages (you can see a video report from the raid here). Documenting the impounded birds, our team tagged each rooster with a numbered leg band and snapped their photo.
The roosters are always nervous when we approach them. They raise a ruckus, squawking and flapping their wings wildly, vainly trying to escape their tethers or confines. But their panic is short-lived. Approaching each bird, I talk in a low, reassuring voice. Their responsiveness to this small bit of kindness is unmistakable. Although some remain a bit skittish, most settle down and even shut their eyes and quietly coo as they settle into my arms, realizing they are in gentle hands.
This is always my favorite part of a cockfighting raid, as it gives me an opportunity to pick up each bird, look him in the eye, and learn his or her individual personality. It’s a reminder of why we do this sort of work every day. Each of the more than 600 birds we saved from the fate of dying in a cockfighting pit gave me that many more reasons to stay motivated to bring these people to justice.
At the day’s end, we had impounded more than 400 roosters and approximately 200 hens. Ample paraphernalia consistent with a cockfighting operation was discovered. And two individuals believed to be major players in the cockfighting underworld had been sent a wake-up call.
Most importantly, a clear message has been sent to any cockfighters who still cling to their barbaric, archaic pastime of animal cruelty: Exporting birds to Mexico or any other nation is a non-starter and it is a crime.