AR-News: (OH) Cockfighting Group Fights to Keep Status

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Mon Oct 13 10:10:37 EDT 2003

Posted on Mon, Oct. 13, 2003

Associated Press
HARRISON, Ohio - Bill Hilsercop owns 30 gamecocks, roosters bred for their 
aggression in the cockfighting pits. For Hilsercop, it's just a hobby.
He no longer participates in cockfighting, which is banned in all but two 
states. But like other members of the Ohio-based United Gamefowl Breeders 
Association, he has sold many birds to buyers in places such as Guam, where 
cockfighting is legal.
Now the association, with about 15,000 members in 28 states, is in a battle 
to retain its tax-exempt status as a federally sanctioned agricultural 
organization. Animal rights groups opposed to cockfighting are urging the government 
to revoke that status.
"You cannot separate the breeding from the fighting," said Wayne Pacelle, 
senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. "The purpose of 
raising the birds is to fight them. There is no legitimate agricultural 
activity occurring."
The Internal Revenue Service says agricultural organizations include groups 
that cultivate land, harvest crops or aquatic resources, or raise livestock. 
The agency confirmed it had received the Humane Society's complaint but couldn't 
say if it was investigating.
Larry Mathews, United Gamefowl's founder and spokesman, said the group 
doesn't see anything wrong with cockfighting where it's legal.
Besides fighting, he said, the birds can be used for show, sold as brood fowl 
to foreign breeders, slaughtered and sold as organic poultry or Cornish game 
hens, or harvested for their feathers.
"We've been audited by the IRS as recently as last year and came through with 
flying colors. We are what we say we are," said Mathews, of Silverton, Ore.
In a cockfight, two roosters wear steel blades on their legs, are sometimes 
drugged and placed in a pit. During a typical tournament, one-third to one-half 
of the birds are killed. Many suffer broken wings, punctured lungs and gouged 
People who fight their birds argue that the sport is part of a long-standing 
American tradition. They say the birds don't feel pain during the fight.
"They are trying to come up with a way to justify their activity in the face 
of massive public opposition," said Karen Davis, head of Virginia-based 
watchdog group United Poultry Concerns. "Cockfighting is not an agricultural 
practice. It's a blood sport."
The practice is barred in every state except Louisiana and New Mexico. Voters 
in Oklahoma banned the activity last year, but the ballot measure is being 
challenged in court.
United Gamefowl was formed as a tax-exempt group in 1975 while Congress was 
considering animal-fighting legislation. A law passed that year banned the 
shipment of gamecocks to states where cockfighting was illegal.
A new law makes it illegal to ship gamecocks anywhere to fight. Shipping 
birds for breeding is allowed. Still, association leaders have challenged the 
regulation in a lawsuit that is pending in the U.S. District Court for Western 
Pacelle said the lawsuit bolsters the Humane Society's claim that the United 
Gamefowl is a cockfighting organization.
Still, some gamefowl breeders insist that raising the birds is not related to 
"When I was a young man, I was into fighting chickens. Now, I just raise 
them," said Hilsercop, 72. "I enjoy every moment of it. It keeps me off the couch."
Don Perdue, a past president of United Gamefowl and state legislator from 
Prichard, W.Va., said he raises a strain of frost gray gamefowl because it was 
something he and his father did together while he was growing up.
"The real breeders spend far more time just looking at those chickens than 
they do fighting them," he said.
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