Can this gamecock be saved?

Can this gamecock be saved?

Can this gamecock be saved?

Answers to your questions about the news.
June 13 2005 6:13 PM

Can This Gamecock Be Saved?

The fate of fighting birds.

FBI agents raided Tennessee's "notorious" Del Rio Cockfight Pit on Saturday. Federal and state law enforcement officials seized $40,000 in cash and recovered about 300 game-bred roosters. After the raid, the roosters were euthanized under the direction of the Humane Society of the United States. Are fighting birds ever rehabilitated?

Very few people have tried. Roosters aren't very popular as pets, and animal welfare workers assume that other gamecock owners would be the only ones willing to adopt them. Since gamecocks can't cohabit peacefully, attempts to rehabilitate them would have to include solitary confinement—which itself may be inhumane.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate.


The fighting birds at Del Rio included roosters that had been brought across state lines in violation of federal law. The birds' owner or owners could have been subject to a per-bird fine of up to $15,000. As a result, no one who was present at the pit claimed any of the gamecocks, which were then euthanized without delay.

If a breeder did claim ownership, the state would house the birds at a shelter until the end of the criminal trial. This can be quite costly, since each gamecock must be kept separate from the others and some need veterinary care. (In Tennessee and a few other states, if a criminal defendant is found guilty, then he can be forced to pay these costs.)

There isn't much hope for fighting dogs, either. According to the Humane Society, game-bred dogs should also be killed when dogfight and hog-dog rings are broken up. A pit bull that's bred for fighting will often be calm around humans but very aggressive with other dogs. The possibility of dog-on-dog attacks can present enough legal liability that a rescue adoption is impossible. In most cases, the dogs—like the birds—are held at a shelter until the outcome of a trial and then either returned to their owner or euthanized.

Many rescue groups do try to rehabilitate fighting dogs. Trainers say that an animal's chance for reform depends upon its personality. Workers at animal shelters can apply a "temperament test" to a dog with a questionable background. The test might involve observing the dog interacting with food or toys, or meeting and greeting other dogs and human strangers.

Bonus Explainer: State laws tend to be stricter on dogfights than cockfights. Dogfights are illegal in every state and a felony offense in all but two—Idaho and Wyoming. Owning a fighting dog and watching a dogfight are also illegal in almost all states. Cockfights, though, are still legal in Louisiana and parts of New Mexico and are classified as a misdemeanor in 16 states. You can legally own a gamecock in 18 states and visit a cockfight as a spectator in nine.

Explainer thanks Robin Fertel of Paws All Around and John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States.