Blog note: This article refers to a 2019 Monterey County grand jury report.
There are good reasons why cockfighting is outlawed in all 50 states. It’s not just cruel and inhumane for the roosters who are drugged, outfitted with razor-sharp spurs and forced to fight to the death. It’s dangerous to people, as well as being a potential source of disease, say animal welfare groups. Two groups filed suit against Monterey County in August, asking a Superior Court judge to compel officials to enforce the county’s rooster ordinance meant to curb what activists contend is a flourishing practice here.
That ordinance was passed by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors in a 3-2 vote in 2014. It made it illegal to keep more than five roosters on a property without a permit, and it also set certain standards for debris cleanup and treatment of the animals and prohibited anyone convicted of cockfighting or animal cruelty from obtaining a rooster-keeping permit. The law was challenged in 2015 by two men who argued the ordinance was unconstitutional and violated their civil rights. They lost in Monterey County Superior Court in 2016 and an appeal in federal court was denied in February 2019.
In 2014, the county estimated there were possibly hundreds of cockfighting operations. Yet the ordinance went essentially unenforced, according to a 2019 report by the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury. Witnesses testified there were closer to 1,000 operations.
The grand jury concluded that enforcement was hampered by a complicated reporting process, confusion over the roles of county agencies and some agencies’ inability or unwillingness to enforce the ordinance. In written responses, county officials disagreed with some of the grand jury’s findings but agreed they had a lack of staff to respond to issues.
The grand jury requested improvements be made in 2020, but when that failed to happen the two animal welfare groups – Humane Farming Association and Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, known as SHARK – as well as a resident identified as Jane Doe, filed the lawsuit in August. On Dec. 18, the plaintiffs and the county agreed in court to a stipulation that includes plans for better enforcement. During negotiations, the county hired additional animal control officers, bringing its staff up to four.
Officials agreed to form a task force with representatives from Animal Services, county counsel’s office, the District Attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office, SPCA Monterey County, and a representative from the Board of Supervisors. That group has not met yet; a six-month progress report to the court is due on May 25.
Attorney Vanessa Shakib of the firm Advancing Law for Animals, representing the plaintiffs, says there is a greater cost to the public when cockfighting is allowed to continue than there is to enforcement. One example is a 2002 California poultry epidemic of Virulent Newcastle Disease attributed to cockfighting operations which cost an estimated $180 million to eradicate. Cockfighting has also been known to spread zoonotic diseases – those spread from animal to human. “We’re not just talking animal welfare,” Shakib says.
January 11, 2021