By LeeAnn Cain / Staff Writer
An estimated 700 members of the American Gamefowl Defense Network met at the Corbin Arena early Saturday morning to rally for the rights of gamefowl breeders and cockfighters.
“Our motto is ‘Change the law; don’t break the law,’” Director David Devereaux said.
The group has been meeting across the country to combat the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which was proposed in January 2013 and had its key components passed in February as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. These provisions of the Farm Bill made it a federal crime to attend a cockfight.
Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, but is a misdemeanor in the state of Kentucky for now. While the American Gamefowl Defense Network would like to ultimately see cockfighting become legal, their focus at Saturday’s meeting was fighting the 2014 Farm Bill.
Kentucky State Rep. Richard Henderson (D-District 74) said the next step in fighting the 2014 Farm Bill is to appeal to legislators to modify the bill to exclude the provision that would make attending cockfights a felony. According to Deveraux, the group will appeal to Kentucky legislators through “citizen involvement in the democratic process” and Henderson calls on advocates of cockfighting to achieve the organization’s goals by writing state legislators.
Saturday’s meeting was closed to the public, but Deveraux spoke beforehand about why the group believes cockfighting should be legalized and why cockfighting advocates’ have focused on Kentucky. According to Deveraux, many in the cockfighting community feel that Kentucky is a good place to begin advocating for their rights because Kentucky appears to be more open to cockfighters with more lax laws and law enforcement around cockfights.
Deveraux said cockfighting has a deep history in the country dating back to the country’s founding, and said cockfighting opponents wrongly paint participants of the sport as involved in criminal activity other than cockfighting, such as the manufacturing of methamphetamine.
“We are good, hardworking people that follow the law,” Deveraux said.
Many legally protected activities are far more brutal than cockfighting, according to Deveraux. He said that chickens used for fighting live a minimum of two years in good conditions, compared to commercially farmed chickens who live six weeks in cramped, unsanitary conditions.
“Gamefowl have a better life than the chickens we eat,” he said. “The ones that survive and win fights live to retire as prized breeding stock. They can live for 15 years.”
Deveraux also believes the Humane Society of the United States is using cockfighting as a way to “end all animal use in this country.”
“It’s not about cockfighting. It’s about ending hunting, fishing, agriculture,” he said. “Hunters are legally protected, so why aren’t we?”
Deveraux also said the gamefowl community does not generally support dogfighting, and considered gamefowl different from other animals traditionally used in animal fighting.
“The USDA considers chickens exempt from the humane slaughter laws other livestock is subjected to,” he said. “They’re legally not on the same level as a dog or a bear. It’s almost offensive to say we’re the same as dogfighters.”
Deveraux does not deny that the actual fights are brutal.
“We accept brutality as a part of life,” he said.
He also noted that gamefowl can be used for more than fighting; feathers are used to create jewelry and other decorations and their eggs are edible.
Deveraux also said the ability to breed gamefowl is vital; even if the animals aren’t used for fighting, Deveraux said they are a part of American tradition. Deveraux said if gamefowl are only bred and not fought, the chickens would lose the traits that distinguish them as gamefowl. He added they are part of American history.
“What’s more humane? Extinction or existing?” he asked.
During the meeting, Henderson said he spoke about cockfighting legislation and the 2014 Farm Bill.
Rather than making cockfighting a federal crime, he said there are more important “life and death” issues such as drug use that lawmakers should focus on.
“My main problem with all of this is making ordinary people felons. You can’t go and make everybody a felon, and that’s what I feel like the federal government is trying to do,” Henderson said.
Henderson said gamefowl are not domesticated like other breeds of chickens; he called them “wild animals.”
“There’s a cycle of life in the wild, and these birds would fight no matter what they were raised for,” he said.
Henderson said the money that circulates through cockfights is important to the economies of small, cash-strapped eastern Kentucky towns. He said making cockfighting a felony is “just another blow on towns already affected by the loss of coal mines.”
“We as a society are making everyone felons. When will it stop? A felony should be a heinous crime, and we should stop [making felons out of] people who aren’t criminals,” Henderson said.
Henderson believes there is a middle ground, and implores people to look at cockfighting in France. According to Henderson, it is illegal in France except in certain areas where it is legal for the purpose of preserving the heritage of these places.
“Is it animal abuse, or is it heritage?” he asked. “We should just allow people to exist.”