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Cockfighting Q&A - Yes On 687

Why should cockfighting be banned?
Breeding birds for aggressive traits, training them to fight, strapping knives or ice-pick-like gaffs to their legs, and placing them in a pit to fight to injury or death is the very definition of animal cruelty. If it is wrong to fight dogs for amusement, it is also wrong to fight roosters.

Do they really strap knives or gaffs to their legs?
Yes. The fight is defined by the style of weapon strapped to the combatants' legs, such as a "short-knife" fight, a "long-knife" fight, or a "gaff fight." Cockfighters shave down or cut off the natural spur on the birds' legs and then strap on the knives before the fight.

Why are the knives and gaffs used?
They enhance the bloodletting, making the fight more entertaining for people who get a kick out of seeing animals hack one another to death. What's more, the weapons make the fights end more quickly; many cockfighting fans would be bored if the fights went on for hours. This also allows pit owners to benefit from greater numbers of roosters entered in cockfight events, which often last three days. On "derby" days, over one thousand roosters are killed or maimed at a single location.

Has any other state passed an initiative to ban cockfighting?
Yes, the citizens of Arizona and Missouri - after seeing that state legislators refused to ban cockfights - gathered signatures to place measures on their statewide ballots and then overwhelmingly approved the bans. The vast majority of citizens - urban and rural, Democrat and Republican, white and black - voted in favor of the cockfighting bans.

Is animal fighting a felony in any other state?
It is a felony to fight dogs in 45 states, and it is a felony to fight roosters in 26 states. Many of the remaining states are now considering legislation to upgrade penalties for animal fighting.

Isn't a felony a pretty stiff penalty?
Yes, it is a tough penalty, but a necessary one to combat this indefensible conduct. Misdemeanor penalties that result in a small fine provide no meaningful deterrent to cockfighters, who simply consider the fines that result from misdemeanor convictions to be a cost of doing business. Individuals can avoid felony penalties by not fighting the birds - it's that simple.

Is it a felony to be a spectator at a cockfight?
No, SQ 687 makes it a misdemeanor to attend a cockfight. The differential penalties for fighting the birds and watching the fights reflects the thinking that attending the fights is wrong, but not as serious an offense as conducting or facilitating the fights themselves.

Is it a felony to fight dogs in Oklahoma?
Yes it is, and it helps deter dogfighting. What's more, the law banning dogfighting has a major forfeiture provision, allowing the confiscation of property used in the commission of a dogfighting crime.

How did the anti-cockfighting measure get on the ballot?
Approximately 100,000 citizens from all parts of the state signed petitions to place the measure on the ballot. Cockfighters took action in court in a desperate attempt to keep the measure off the ballot, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled unanimously in November 2001 that the petition met all of the qualifications for ballot placement.

Why hasn't the Legislature banned cockfights?
Cockfighters are politically active, and they have convinced a small number of legislators to block any anti-cockfighting legislation.

Isn't cockfighting natural?
The wild birds related to today's modern gamecock did not fight to the death in their natural environments. Males sometimes engage in fights to determine their place in the social order, called a pecking order. Rarely if ever do the encounters between roosters end in injury or death. Of course, these birds simply have their natural spurs as a weapons, not sharpened knives or gaffs. Nor are the wild birds dosed with stimulants to heighten their aggression. In natural territorial battles, the vanquished rooster is allowed to leave or submit to the authority of the stronger bird. The "handlers" at cockfights force their birds to fight to the death or major injury.

Are birds really drugged for fights?
Cockfighters' journals - such as The Gamecock, The Feather Warrior, and Grit & Steel -- are full of ads for stimulants, hormones, and blood-clotting drugs. Strychnine is one of the most popular stimulants. It and other drugs give birds a "boost" despite multiple puncture wounds or knife wounds.

Is cockfighting a big industry in Oklahoma?
There are thousands of birds killed at cockfights, but it's hardly a significant source of economic activity. Money changes hands in bets on birds, but that simply transfers money between individuals. The state obviously gets no share of the dollars illegally wagered at cockfights.

Are children allowed to attend cockfights?
Each pit makes its own rules, but it is very common to have children attend cockfights. At some pits, children under 12 pay no admission fee. Thus, they are exposed to blatant animal cruelty, gambling, and other inappropriate conduct that occurs at cockfights. There is a strong link established between acts of cruelty to animals and violence to people, and it is very dangerous for children to see that adults sanction this sort of cruelty and consider it acceptable. One Oklahoma newspaper documented children actively betting substantial sums of money out in the open at a cockfight.

Is cockfighting legal anywhere else?
Cockfighting is illegal in 47 states; most states banned cockfighting in the 19th century. It is legal only in Louisiana, certain counties in New Mexico, and in Oklahoma. Cockfighting had been illegal in Oklahoma until 1963, when a state judge declared that chickens were not covered under the anti-animal fighting statute that had been adopted around the time of statehood.

What does the veterinary community have to say about cockfights?
The American Veterinary Medical Association strongly opposes cockfighting and supports laws to make cockfighting a felony.

Where in Oklahoma are the cockfights?
Cockfighters admit to 42 legal pits throughout the state, mainly on the borders to that cockfighters from other states can travel and fight their birds. Some of the pits are in Arnett, Calvin, Kellyville, Kingston, Muldrow, Sallisaw, Thackerville, and Wapanucka.

Is there illegal gambling at cockfights?
Yes, gambling is commonplace at cockfights, even though many cockfighting pits place "no gambling" signs in the pits and seating areas. Without gambling, there would hardly be a reason to hold cockfights.