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After huge cockfighting bust, L.A. supervisors seek to limit roosters

After huge cockfighting bust, L.A. supervisors seek to limit roosters
Some of the thousands of roosters captured at a remote compound in Val Verde in 2017. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday moved to limit the keeping of roosters in unincorporated areas, citing public complaints about noise, sanitation and illegal cockfighting.

The new policy limits the number of male birds depending on a resident’s property size — and it allows county officials to levy fines of $100 for those who don’t comply.

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It comes in response to a massive cockfighting bust in Val Verde last year involving thousands of roosters that prompted county officials to address the practice while also seeking to limit the impact the birds have on neighborhoods.

“There are other quality of life issues,” said Marcia Mayeda, who directs the county’s animal care and control efforts, citing concerns about noise, odor and disease. “We feel that this is a reasonable solution that balances the interests of rural and urban areas.”

The ordinance doesn’t prevent residents from keeping egg-producing hens, but limits the number of roosters on a sliding scale. Owners of half-acre lots would be able to maintain two roosters, for example, while lots with more than five acres can have as many as 10.

Property owners who want more birds would have to pay a fee to receive a $25 animal facility license, like those issued for pet shops and groomers. Doing so would require an annual inspection in which county workers could assess the neighborhood impact based on the proximity of neighbors, sanitation and animal care.

With some exceptions, no property would be permitted to have more than 25 roosters.

The city of Los Angeles limited residents to a single rooster in 2009, and many other municipalities in the county have their own rules. Other unregulated cities now have the option of adopting the county’s new ordinance, which is similar to others passed in recent years across California.

Before adopting the ordinance, the board heard from several speakers, including representatives from the Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who supported the policy in an effort to curb the “blood sport” of cockfighting and the cruel treatment of birds.

The board also considered what supporters of the ordinance said were crimes associated with the practice, which has prompted hundreds of calls for service in recent years to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Capt. Jeff Perry said that in addition to the calls, the department had also executed more than 35 search warrants in recent years on suspected cockfighting sites, where deputies discovered illegal drugs and weapons, examples of child endangerment and the theft of utilities.

“These raids have significant costs,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger, whose district includes swaths of unincorporated areas in the northern parts of the county. “There’s no question in my mind that this county has to take action.”

Since the Val Verde raid in May 2017 — which authorities say was the largest seizure of fighting roosters in American history — county officials have held several community meetings to get input from property owners, including poultry hobbyists.

Despite lingering concerns, the effort earned support from some members of the Los Angeles Urban Chicken Enthusiasts, a group with 2,200 members.

One of its founding organizers, Laura Bonilla, said the ordinance is fair to her members, who don’t support cockfighting.

“It’s horrible and it’s cruel and it is illegal,” said Bonilla, who years ago moved to Riverside County to accommodate her flock, which now includes three roosters, Omar, Michael and Samy.

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Another member of the group, Chris Loomis, said he appreciated the county’s sensitivity to other hobbyists.

He now has only one rooster to comply with the city of L.A.’s ordinance, which he said threatens his ability to maintain a genetically consistent flock if his single black Australorp rooster were to die.

Loomis also worries that the public conflates the keeping of roosters with cockfighting and other associated crimes without much concern for their owners’ love of the birds and way of life.

“I feel like roosters get a bad rap,” he said. “It’s part of our neighborhood soundscape. There are dogs barking and ice cream trucks and roosters crowing.”

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