AR-News: (OH) Cockfighting Group Fights to Keep Status
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WeArPetitions at aol.com
Mon Oct 13 10:10:37 EDT 2003
Posted on Mon, Oct. 13, 2003
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
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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