The cockfighting industry in New York received a rude wakeup call over the weekend when authorities raided three locations where they arrested nine people on felony charges and freed 3,000 birds in what state officials called one of the largest such actions in history.
The raids began Saturday at a cockfighting event in Queens and ended on Sunday when officials went to a farm in upstate New York where fighting roosters were boarded, state Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman announced. The raids, dubbed "Operation Angry Birds," were carried out by state and local police, with assistance from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
"Cockfighting is a cruel, abusive and barbaric practice that tortures animals, endangers the health and safety of the public and is known to facilitate other crimes," Schneiderman said in a prepared statement. "My office, along with our partners in law enforcement and animal welfare, are committed to ending this vicious blood sport. This investigation – one of the largest in U.S. history – illustrates the prevalence of cockfighting in America, its brutal nature and the link to other illegal activities."
Spectators were charged an admission fee to witness the bloody spectacle. Alcohol was sold without a permit and participants bet on the outcome, with some individuals wagering as much as $10,000, officials said.
In Queens, authorities raided a cockfighting event where 70 people were initially taken into custody. The ASPCA took control of 65 fighting birds, authorities said.
In Brooklyn, a pet shop was raided where 50 fighting birds were rescued from a basement beneath the pet shop. The pet shop's owner was arrested on a felony charge. Cockfighting contraband, including artificial spurs and syringes that are used to inject performance-enhancing drugs into the roosters, were also found, officials said.
On Sunday, authorities raided a 90-acre farm in Plattekill, in Ulster County, rescuing as many as 3,000 birds. The farm's owners are accused of charging rent to house birds from various other states, including, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts. A farm manager and a farm hand were arrested.
In all, nine people face felony charges. In New York, cockfighting and possession of a fighting bird are felonies, carrying a maximum penalty of four years in jail and a fine of up to $25,000, according to the attorney general's office.
Paying to attend a cockfighting event is a misdemeanor with a possible sentence of up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The roosters were bred, trained, plied with performance-enhancing drugs, had razor-sharp gaffs attached in place of their natural spurs and were locked in a small pen to be wagered upon, the state attorney general's office stated.
The ASPCA has established a temporary shelter to house and care for the animals.
"No animal should be forced to fight to the death for human entertainment and profit, and we are proud to play a leading role in removing and caring for these victimized birds, as well as offering expert legal assistance in this case," said ASPCA president and CEO Matthew Bershadker. "This collaborative investigation, intervention and enforcement is a giant step toward our shared goal of wiping out cockfighting in America."