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Tulsa World

Where now to roost
2002-11-08

Looking for answers

Jerry Douglass holds up one of his more than 1,000 fighting gamecocks at his house outside Collinsville on Thursday. After Tuesday's approval of State Question 687, Douglass isn't sure what to do with the roosters. "After 45 years of this, it's kind of become a way of life," Douglass said.

As fans of cockfighting wonder what's next, the blood sport's foes press authorities to enforce the ban.

Jerry and Peggy Douglass have more than 1,000 gamecocks on their property outside of Collinsville, and they're not sure what to do with them.

"We have no idea," Peggy Douglass said. "No one does. We have had calls from all over the world and all around the state from people who want to know what to do."

After Tuesday's vote to ban cockfighting, cockfighters and game club operators around the state are attempting to figure out what's next.

At the same time, the opponents of the blood sport are calling on sheriffs and prosecutors to enforce the ban and prosecute violators.

Under the ban, which will take effect once the state election board completes vote verification Friday afternoon, owning gamecocks with the intention of cockfighting is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

Cockfighting became legal in Oklahoma in 1963, when the state Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that a fowl is not an animal and is exempt from state laws against animal fighting. State Question 687, approved by a nearly 125,000-vote margin on Tuesday, again made cockfighting illegal. It is now legal only in Louisiana and New Mexico.

In addition, a federal law that takes effect in May bans interstate and international transport of fighting roosters. The maximum penalty will be $15,000 per bird.

Peggy Douglass said Thursday she called the attorney general's office, the district attorney's office and her sheriff's office trying to find out what to do.

So far, she's still waiting on an answer, she said.

"I was looking for somebody smarter than me to explain it," Douglass said. "I'm still looking."

So are others, said Trent Baggett of the District Attorneys Council in Oklahoma City.

The law will be subject to some clarification during the next legislative session, Baggett said.

"Under the measure, it is a felony to own, possess, keep or train birds for cockfighting," Baggett said, reading from the measure. "That seems pretty clear."

But what if a bird is being kept for shows or simply to scratch in the yard? That gets to the intent of the bird owner, Baggett said, and there it will become the chore of police to investigate, the district attorney to enforce and citizens to follow, he said.

"That's not to say that everybody out there raising fighting cocks will go to the penitentiary on Saturday," Baggett added.

The penalties set forth in State Question 687 are identical to the penalties contained in the state's anti-dogfighting law, which the Legislature adopted in 1982, cockfighting foes noted. There are 26 other states that have felony-level penalties for cockfighting, according to the Oklahoma Coalition Against Cockfighting.

"Cockfighters can avoid arrest and prosecution by simply not engaging in cockfighting crimes," OCAC spokeswoman Cynthia Armstrong said. "It's that simple."

Worries about the penalties and rumors about what will happen on Friday are swirling around the state because cockfighters plan to ignore the ban, Armstrong added.

"If these people break the law by staging organized cockfights, they should be arrested and prosecuted," Armstrong said. "A vote of the people means something, and the state has an obligation to enforce the law."

The Texoma Game Club in Kingston was supposedly going to hold its cockfight derby this Saturday, Armstrong said. Judy Hamilton, owner of the club, said Thursday she wasn't sure what she was going to do.

"I have done this for 15 years," Hamilton said. "I have paid my state and federal taxes and now they are taking it away from me and making me a criminal.

"I don't know what to do."

Cockfighting foes also attacked state Sen. Frank Shurden's comments on Wednesday about attempting to cut the penalties for cockfighting in the state. The Henryetta Democrat has argued that cockfighting in Oklahoma should not be a felony.

"It is time for Frank Shurden and other cockfighting apologists to recognize that the people have spoken and they have said that cockfighting is inhumane and unacceptable," Armstrong added. "We have said all along that we need stiff penalties to deter cockfighters from simply flouting the law.

"Shurden's bill is a transparent attempt to create a scenario where cockfighters can knowingly break the law without facing serious consequences."

Meanwhile, cockfighters like the Douglasses wait to see what will happen next.

"I think the ball is in somebody else's court," Peggy Douglass said.

Shaun Schafer, World staff writer, can be reached at 581-8320 or via e-mail at shaun.schafer@ tulsaworld.com.