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The Shawnee News Star

Gamebreeder: Lawsuits have been filed

Instead of fighting in the pits, they will be battling it out in the courtroom.

Oklahoma gamebreeders and cockfighters are disappointed by Oklahoma's vote to ban cockfighting in Tuesday's election, but Lester Hasbel, gamebreeder, said they are holding onto a glimmer of hope.

On behalf of the Gamebreeders Association, a federal appeal and two lawsuits have been filed, said Hasbel.

"If we win any of the three, we could get it turned over," he said.

Cynthia Armstrong, campaign chair for the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting said she is not surprised to hear of the appeal and lawsuits.

"Their unhappy, but the Oklahoma voters have spoken," she said. "I think it is a futile effort on their part."

If the courts and legislature fail, Hasbel said he has heard rumors the Kiowa Tribe may build cockfighting pits on tribal land and allow gamebreeders to keep their roosters and equipment there as well as fight them. The issue would then fall under tribal law instead of state law.

"It may just be as big as it ever was except it will be Indian run," he said.

Armstrong said she couldn't image the Kiowa tribe entertaining such an idea.

"The Native American's look at themselves as protectors of animals," she said.

She said it is not in their heritage to condone something like cockfighting.

In Tuesday's election, the ban on cockfighting was not approved in Seminole, Lincoln, or Pottawatomie counties. Hasbel said they received most of the votes against cockfighting from the Tulsa area.

"We won most of the counties," Hasbel said.

He said he is not as much interested in fighting the birds anymore as he is in keeping 40 years of breeding alive.

When election results are certified, it will be illegal to own, possess, keep or train any bird for fighting, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.

Hasbel, said he sees no other alternative then to kill most of his birds when the law goes into effect.

Armstrong said gamebreeders will not have to kill the birds they currently own in order to comply with the law which states, "every person who owns, possesses, keeps or trains any bird with the intent that such bird shall be engaged in a cockfight, upon conviction, shall be guilty of a felony."

"If they are not continuing to raise them with the intent to fight them, they should be fine," she said.

She said if someone is charged with breaking the law the burden of proof will fall upon law enforcement.

Hasbel said the opposite is true.

"When they pick you up, they don't have to prove you're guilty -- you have to prove your innocent," he said. "And you're going to be out thousands of dollars in attorney's fees."

He said a felony is a serious offense and he does not plan on taking any chances.

"I don't do anything against the law and I don't intend to start now," he said. "If I have no other resources, I'm just going to kill them."

Some may be butchered or given away for food, but he said there are just too many of them. Animals shelters would not be able take the birds either, because they have to be individually caged, he said.

"I think in the long run, it's all over for me and I sure hate to see it," the gamebreeder said. "It makes me sad. We'll just have to wait and see what happens."

It will be a complete change of life to abide by the new law, he said.

"I don't see how we were doing anything worse than trophy hunters do," Hasbel said. "It was a freedom that was taken away. In America I thought that's was what we fought and died for."