Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Louisiana lone holdout on cockfighting

Believe it or not, cockfighting (the blood sport where two cocks try to tear each other apart) is now legal in only one state: Louisiana.

A bill was passed into law last Friday in New Mexico outlawing the "sport". As of July 1, 2007 Louisiana will be the only state in the Union (in fact, the only jurisdiction north of the Mexico border) where cockfighting is legal. In spite of strong support for the bill, there was considerable resistance to it. Pro-hunting conservative groups were apparently scared of a "slippery slope" situation where outlawing cockfighting would eventually result in the outlawing of rodeos. The lack of any evidence of this happening in other jurisdictions did not silence the resistance.

This shocked me, as I just assumed this brutal and useless practise was illegal in the entire nation. England and Wales outlawed cockfighting in 1849. Scotland outlawed it in 1895.

With Louisiana the last, sad bastion of this "sport" it's likely pressure will increase, dragging Louisiana kicking and screaming out of the 19th century and toward a ban.


Jason said...

I didn't know cockfighting was legal in Louisiana anymore. I guess I just kind of thought it was banned about the same time as in Oklahoma in 2002. Of course I haven't had any contact with the cockfighting world in about 20 years and wasn't motivated to check into the matter. I knew a lot of the people I used to know in Oklahoma were pissed off about the ban there and I sort of absently believed that was a good thing. The timing of all this is interesting because I went to a ren faire in Texas with Tom, Yoshiko, and Jimmy last Saturday and we passed by a gamecock farm. Jimmy said he thought that was illegal and I told him keeping the birds was not illegal. Being that we were near the Lousiana border I wondered if cockfighting was still legal there. Your post answered that question for me. I was a bit surprised that it was still legal anywhere within our borders. I guess I should have known it would be Louisiana. Despite what Texans like to believe, it's Lousiana that's like a whole other country in many ways. My own state of Arkansas ruled cockfighting animal cruelty and banned the practice in 1879. I was kind of proud when I learned that even though I know Arkansans were some of biggest contributors to the industry. Two of the three major cockfighting periodicals are published in Arkansas. The Feathered Warrior has its headquarters in DeQueen, which is where I was born. My own father raised gamecocks from the time I was a young child until I was almost out of high school. He associated with several cockfighters in Oklahoma and traded and sold the birds with them for fighting and nonfighting purposes. I never liked tending the chickens that much. But we had several hundred animals on the place at any given time. When we had more of one kind it usually meant we had less of another. It was always going to be something. So I guess tending chickens wasn't all that bad. Although I do have some bad memories associated with The Great Chicken Bath of '85. At that time we had nearly a thousand game chickens. We had to catch and bathe them individually to control a parasite outbreak. Some fun. But the worst thing was being taken to the cockfights. I never volunteered to go after the first time. I was in elementary then and didn't really know what it was about. We didn't stay long that time and I wasn't really supposed to be there anyway. I was forced to go only 5 or 6 times after that. My father didn't believe in gambling so that wasn't his purpose at the fights. He always had chickens and general chicken paraphenalia he would take to sell to the cockfighters. I was allowed to guard the truck so I didn't have to go in. To me cockfights were all about senseless cruelty and boredom. I understood the allure of the gambling but I thought they could find something else to bet on. I always hated being associated in any way with cockfighting. Having the chickens themselves didn't bother me at all. They were just chickens. They tasted good and laid eggs for us, too. It was what other people did with some of the very birds I helped raise that made me uneasy. I'm just glad it's all over for me. I've read some of the arguments for and against banning cockfighting. For the cockfighters it seems to be about tradition. The rodeo argument you mention strikes me as idiotic. Rodeos have always been legal in Arkansas but nobody alive today remembers a time when cockfighting was. As you point out, it just doesn't stand up. I don't like any sport that involves mistreatment of animals. I'm not a fan of rodeo, neither am I particularly opposed to it. But an activity in which the death of an animal is not just an occasional unfortunate accident but is instead the entire purpose of the activity should have been banned everywhere at the same time as slavery, if not before. Proponents argue cockfighting isn't animal cruelty because these birds fight naturally. I support the other side who point out that they don't naturally fight with knives. They also don't naturally fight in pits where one of them can't run away if he's losing too badly. I recently read The Humane Society's page against cockfighting. I'm sorry to say that one of their major arguements also doesn't pass the reality test. I suspect that is one of the reasons so many of their opponents can dismiss it so easily, not that most of them really need a reason. The Humane Society's position on the arguement that cocks fight naturally is they only fight over mates, food, territory, and the like. Their fights rarely result in injury let alone death. This position is so naive and incorrect I might have laughed if it weren't so serious. Gamecock breeders know that two cocks who can get to each other will frequently fight until one is either dead or so badly injured it must be euthanized. There is probably not a single breeder out there who hasn't awakened one morning to find a dead cock on his yard somewhere and a bloodied one nearby. The Humane Society's assertion is generally true of non-game birds. And true of even some gamecocks themselves. Some just won't fight. Those are the ones who are culled from the breeding stock. The many who will fight to the death have been bred for extreme aggression for dozens of generations or longer. I think the Humane Society needs to ditch its rosy view of the behavior of these animals and argue more effectively with facts.
Then again, perhaps it isn't the breeders or the organizers they are trying to convince. Perhaps they are only trying to shop their fantasies to the voters who basically only know what they are told. Or perhaps they truly believe what they print on their website. Perhaps someone should tell them their information is not entirely accurate. Perhaps I shall.
I believe those people who are aware that gamecocks will often fight to the death entirely on their own should also know that the breeders who gentically manipulated them to behave in this manner are just as guilty of animal cruelty as the handlers in the pit or anyone else involved.

Allan Goodall said...

Jason, great post!

I suspect you're right about the Humane Society, that they are inflating the nasty side of the sport to counter inflation by the other side.

Or, it could be that someone wrote the copy from a more involved document and didn't see the nuances. As you point out, non-gamecocks don't fight to the death, and neither do some gamecocks. They might be simplifying it to mean, "If you let gamecocks out into the wild, they wouldn't usually fight to the death once the 'fight to the death' instinct had been culled, an instinct that was artificially created by genetic manipulation through breeding." Gosh, that's a lot to say... so maybe they just said, "Gamecocks don't naturally fight to the death," an oversimplification at best.

Either way, a detailed argument explaining how you were (against your will) involved in cockfighting, know the sport, but are against it, followed by an explanation of why their argument is wrong could be useful. Or, they'll leave well enough alone since their argument has worked on all states but Louisiana.

The rodeo thing is the typical slippery slope fallacy: "It's a slippery slope! You ban cockfighting and the next thing you know they'll ban rodeos and dog races!" There is absolutely no basis in fact. Rodeos are legal in almost every jurisdiction in the U.S. and Canada (Toronto banned animal circuses due to cruelty; not sure if rodeos fall under that ban), yet none of these allow cockfighting. As you point out some of them have banned cockfighting for well over a century. I've seen slipperier slopes made of sand paper...

JAM said...

Good ole Lowsy-anna. My chest swelleth with pride. No, wait, that's probably just indigestion.

Doesn't surprise me a bit that La. is the final holdout of cockfighting. When I was growing up, La., Miss., and Ala. were always duking it out for last place ranked public schools in the country. This is just one more straw on the camel's back.

When the whole Broward County, FL 2000 presidential election was the political news for months on end, I'd tell my friends that it didn't bother me at all living in FL with the whole nation thinking us idiots. "I'm from Louisiana!", I'd announce and everyone would laugh, because Louisiana is well known for political shenanigans. If felt good to me that the heat was on some other state for a change.