Last Cockfighting School in the Nation Closes its Doors

On November 30th, animal advocates celebrated the closing of the nation's last known school in operation that taught the cruel and illegal practice of cockfighting. Over the past 40 years the "School for Beginning Cockers" in Blanket, Texas reportedly trained more than 8,000 people how to fight roosters, even though cockfighting is a felony in that state. The school closing was announced in the October 2006 edition of the "The Gamecock," a nationally circulated cockfighting magazine.

The school was run by 82-year-old Mike Ratliff and his final two-week session ended November 18. Ratliff boasted in The Gamecock that his last class would include two 18 and 20-year-old brothers from Guatemala, and that "there is no one to take my place."

"We don't have schools for drug running or organizing a prostitution ring, and we shouldn't have a school for cockfighting," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "It is a relief that this so-called school has closed, but we are still dealing with the 'graduates' of this program who are engaging in their criminal conduct throughout the country. We will vigorously encourage the prosecution of these cockfighters and others who take pleasure in perpetrating illegal acts of animal cruelty."

Cockfighting is an indefensible practice that entails forcing two animals with to fight one another. Birds, fitted with metal weapons attached to their legs, typically suffer bloody wounds, gouged eyes and even death. As law enforcement officials can attest, cockfighting is also associated with other crimes such as illegal gambling and drug dealing.

The closing of the school reflects the state of this dying criminal industry. Cockfighting is illegal in 48 states but still legal in New Mexico and Louisiana. Since 1998, the number of states that provide felony penalties for cockfighting has risen from 17 to 33. During the same period, three states where cockfighting was once legal, adopted laws to ban the practice.

Over last three years, two of the nation's largest illegal cockfighting pits, Del Rio in Tennessee and Springbrook in Kentucky, were shut down by law enforcement. The three nationally circulated cockfighting magazines–The Gamecock, The Feathered Warrior and Grit and Steel–have only a portion of the readership they had years ago.

"There have been tremendous strides made in combating cockfighting over the past decade and cockfighters are in retreat," said John Goodwin, deputy manager of animal fighting issues for The Humane Society of the United States. "The demise of the nation's last cockfighting school is a victory for the animals and for anyone who objects to pitting animals against one another in gruesome death matches."

But the work against animal fighting is not done. The federal Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, H.R. 817, establishes a felony-level penalty for any interstate or foreign transport of animals for fighting purposes. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and has 324 co-sponsors in the House, more than almost any other legislation currently before the Congress.

"The U.S. Congress can further the ultimate demise of the illegal cockfighting industry by passing the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act before the end of the year," added Goodwin. "Misdemeanor penalties are not a deterrent to a cockfighter who can earn thousands of dollars in a single night."

The bill is being held up in the House by outgoing Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI).

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