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The Associated Press

Groups Seek to Ban Cockfighting in N.M.
2002-12-12

TULSA, Okla. -- Fresh off an election victory in Oklahoma, animal welfare groups are turning to New Mexico as they seek to outlaw cockfighting in the last two states where it remains legal.

Animal advocates say a victory next spring in the New Mexico Legislature could erode resistance before a campaign in Louisiana, where the blood sport is perhaps most entrenched.

Oklahoma voters banned cockfighting Nov. 5, but cockfighters and game fowl breeders complain that the anti-cockfighting campaign was funded largely by out-of-state groups. The Humane Society of the United States gave $250,000 and the Fund for Animals gave $162,000.

"I think it's unfair as can be," said Billy Byrd, who has about 250 fighting roosters on his 40-acre farm in Wetumka. "They got a lot of other things they could be doing with that money other than messing with us chicken fighters."

Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Washington, D.C.-based humane society, said the group has 20,000 members in Oklahoma.

"They wanted this long overdue reform, and they demanded that we take action with them," Pacelle said.

Cockfighting supporters spent more money than opponents -- $675,514 to $547,255, according to the most recent campaign reports. But they spent most of it trying to get courts to invalidate the initiative petition that placed the ban on the ballot.

In New Mexico, the animal welfare groups will hire lobbyists and rally members to contact lawmakers, and may also pay for polling or television ads. Thirteen New Mexico counties and a handful of cities have already outlawed the sport.

Legislation to ban cockfighting in New Mexico failed in 2001, the most recent year state lawmakers met for regular session. The state's police chiefs and district attorneys have supported a ban.

"We hope that with the national publicity with cockfighting right now because of the Oklahoma victory we'll have a great chance of passing that bill," said Michael Markarian, president of the New York-based animal fund.

But the New Mexico Game Birds Association also has a lobbyist at the Statehouse, and cockfighters' complaints helped kill the bill in a House committee in 2001.

"This is part of my culture," said Paul Rubio, an optician of Mexican ancestry in Carlsbad, N.M., who owns about 150 gamecocks. "About 70 percent of the cockfighters in New Mexico are Hispanic. This is part of my heritage, my culture that was given to me."

Louisiana, where attempts to ban cockfighting have failed in the past, may provide the toughest challenge for animal advocates. Pacelle said he's not sure the Louisiana Legislature would approve a ban, and neither Louisiana nor New Mexico have citizen initiative petitions.

The federal government is also passing laws restricting cockfighting. A provision in this year's farm bill makes it a misdemeanor to export fighting birds or to transport them across state lines. The punishment could include up to a year in jail and a $15,000 fine.