Thursday, May 17, 2007
7 News Investigations: Cockfighting
Cockfighting -- to some, it is a valiant sport, governed by nature. To others, it's nothing short of cruelty to animals. Seven's Patrick Fraser goes into the underground world of cockfighting and gets an inside look at these bloody battles.
WSVN -- It's a battle of strength and speed, a furious rush displaying courage and determination; a sport beginning the day man first tamed a rooster.
Orlando Riera-Gomez: "The sport is ancient, before written time, you know, so over 6,000 years old."
And today -- in this ring in Puerto Rico -- the goal is the same as it's always been: "Kill or be killed."
Orlando Riera-Gomez: "Like I said, he's just a baby."
Orlando Riera-Gomez is a fan.
Orlando Riera Gomez: "I really can't explain why I'm so passionate other than I love the birds."
He has been raising the roosters since he was a child, just like his father and grandfather.
Orlando Riera-Gomez: "I'm a rooster fighter. I like to fight a rooster. I would love to do it again."
But Orlando can't fight his roosters; it's against the law. So, instead, he is now fighting to make cockfighting legal in Florida.
Orlando Riera-Gomez: "What I'm intending to do in Tallahassee is to find enough courage there to regulate it like it is in Puerto Rico. It would be a boom, an economic boom to the state, put tens of thousands of people to work, millions of dollars worth."
The numbers are hard to pin down, but it's estimated the cockfighting business in Puerto Rico brings in more than $800 million a year.
But, for opponents of this sport, the price is far too high to pay.
Farmer Jeanne Sealander: "Some of them were quite beat up and had eyes missing and some injuries to them because of the cockfighting."
Jeane Sealander sees the brutal side of cockfighting -- taking care of 48 roosters confiscated from a cockfight in Monroe County.
Jeane Sealander: "At first thing in the morning they are, they are ready to be fed but right now..."
Animals bred, fed and prepped to get into a ring and win.
Jeane Sealander: "They also shave their feathers and pluck their feathers and rub alcohol on them and put them in the sun to toughen their skin."
The birds, along with the tools to make them more deadly, were confiscated at a cockfight this year.
Detective Henry Del Valle: "We also found spurs that are placed onto the rooster's natural spurs to enhance the rooster's effectiveness in terms in causing harm to the other animal."
And cockfighting is prevalent throughout South Florida. Miami-Dade detectives shot this undercover video.
The cockfight was in full swing as they watched, along with fans that get the word to come out and watch. They bet big, hoping they will win big.
The dead birds are considered a sign of a good fight, but at the end of this one, there were no winners.
Police confiscated more than $20,000 and a couple of guns. Hundreds of people watched as 42 were arrested and not just the birds' owners.
Detective Henry Del Valle: "The breeding and training of animals for the purpose of animal gaming is a felony here in the state of Florida is if someone happens to be there while the animals are fighting that person is subject to being charged with a felony also."
Patrick Fraser: "Right now, cockfighting is legal in only one U.S. state, Louisiana and in Puerto Rico. Of course it happens all over -- practiced in back alleys and wooded areas -- hidden from police. But Riera-Gomez says it's ridiculous, that there is no reason it should be hidden away."
Orlando Riera-Gomez: "Most people have chicken for dinner, they can care very little what happens to this bird. I do happen to care about this bird."
Riera-Gomez says he will continue to fight the battle to make cockfighting legal, believing many people support him but won't admit it.
Orlando Riera-Gomez: "You know it's politically incorrect to say that you will support regulating rooster fighting like they do in Puerto Rico. I'll never convince the people of this country that it is cruel or not cruel. That is not the issue, the issue is freedom, the issue is to be able to do what I want to do as long as it doesn't hurt you or anybody else."
And in that respect, his fight, like most roosters in the ring, may be futile.
The fighting roosters that are confiscated in illegal cock fighting raids are usually put to sleep. But, in this case, Monroe County Sheriff's Office is looking for good homes for the 48 captured birds.