Thosewanting to ban cockfighting may be in for a fight

Published 12:00 am Sunday, April 2, 2006

Friday night, like any other time at Milkdairy Game Club in Tickfaw, La., is family night. And while many find the idea of strapping knives on the spurs of gamecocks and watching them fight less than wholesome, enthusiasts just want to be left alone to enjoy their centuries-old pastime.

While raising, transporting and fighting roosters remains legal in Louisiana, the enthusiasts at a Friday night derby in Tickfaw were acutely aware of the forces working to change it.

Though some were happy for the opportunity to explain why they love it, all refused to allow their real names to be printed.

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An exception to this was Carter Kinchen, the proprietor of the Milkdairy Game Club.

&8220;I&8217;m proud of what I do and I want everyone to know it,&8221; he said.

At his club, which he runs with the help of his wife and daughter, Kinchen hosts fights &8212; called derbies &8212; four times a month on alternate Friday nights and Saturdays.

Throughout the derby, which began with the singing of the &8220;Star-Spangled Banner&8221; and featured more than 90 roosters &8212; a so-so number, he said &8212; people of all ages, ethnicities and home states gathered inside the club&8217;s indoor arena to cheer on their favorite roosters.

And to wager on it.

Gambling on cockfighting is illegal, but gambling requires a third party taking bets and profiting for the process. Wagering, a bet placed between two people with no third party involved, is not illegal, Kinchen said.

&8220;Even if they couldn&8217;t wager, they&8217;d still be here,&8221; he said. &8220;The money is a secondary thing.&8221;

First things first

The primary thing is the fighting, and what the animal rights groups call cruel and inhumane, Kinchen said, is a part of the area&8217;s natural fabric.

Kinchen said that, contrary to dogs raised for fighting, roosters are not trained to fight &8212; it&8217;s what they do naturally. The birds are bred for maximum &8220;gameness,&8221; he said, but if a rooster refuses to fight once he gets in the ring, the match is over.

While he said it&8217;s happened before, it didn&8217;t happen Friday night.

The fight

After knife inspections &8212; some fights use hook-like instruments instead &8212; and readying the birds for fighting, with handlers holding the birds close enough to peck at each other, the roosters are called to their corners.

The matches sometimes begin with moments of calm while the birds peck the ground around them.

This lasts only until they reestablish visual contact, at which time they fly toward each other and attack.

The roosters are broken up when one falls down. If he is able to show gameness, done by pecking &8212; which they often do &8212; the fight continues.

Not necessarily a fight to the death, an injured rooster will often continue to fight until it expires.

It can be bloody, which some find barbaric. Kinchen and other cockfighters said they admire the birds&8217; courage in the ring.

The legal fight

Illegal in all states but Louisiana and New Mexico, cockfighting is under fire in the Louisiana Legislature again this session.

Bills that would ban the activity are winding through both the house and the senate.

House Bill 120, sponsored by Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, was originally referred to the Criminal Justice Committee but was reassigned to the Agriculture Committee last week.

Proponents of the bills to ban cockfighting say that pastime, like dog fighting, is an indicator of other illegal activity, namely drugs.

State Senator Noble Ellington, D-Winnsboro, said he would be surprised if the bill made it out of the committee, much less to the floor of the House and then on to the Senate.

In explaining the graveyard of past legislative efforts to ban cockfighting, Ellington said lawmakers have had trouble with the issue.

&8220;It&8217;s certainly not something I&8217;m affiliated with and I don&8217;t mean to sound derogatory, but it&8217;s been a part of the Cajun heritage for a long time and I don&8217;t think we (the Legislature) have seen fit (in the past) to take that away from them.&8221;

The pressure continues to build, however, and the prevailing opinion at Milkdairy Game Club Friday was that it is a matter of time before the Legislature changes its mind.

As for the question of heritage &8212; a word Kinchen said he doesn&8217;t like to use &8212; he talked about cockfighting&8217;s history in the area.

&8220;Cockfighting has been here before Louisiana was ever a part of the United States and before it was ever a state,&8221; he said.

Besides, he said, our nation&8217;s founding fathers were avid cockfighters, not to mention the ancient Greeks, among many others.

The origin of the activity is unknown, but it goes back thousands of years and is still popular in many places around the globe.

But slavery goes back thousands of years also, animal rights groups say, and no one is arguing it should still be legal.

That doesn&8217;t wash with Kinchen.

&8220;Slavery is enslaving another human; that&8217;s immoral,&8221; he said. &8220;Fighting roosters is not immoral. Anytime you go to putting people on the same level as animals, you&8217;re sick to start with.

&8220;If you read the Bible, God gave Adam domain rights over the fish of the sea, the fowl of the air and the animals of the land, so long as they are not abused.&8221;

Kinchen and others at Milkdairy said fighting roosters are treated extremely well, receiving the best feed, medical care and housing for at least two years before they begin to fight.

This is in contrast to the short, hard lives of chickens raised for their meat, most of which is spent being force-fed in cages that won&8217;t allow them to move &8212; therefore keeping them plump. They are typically slaughtered at six weeks old.

Family affair

As for the correlation between illegal activities and cockfighting, the sentiment was not shared Friday night.

&8220;If there was all that going on here, it&8217;d be dangerous and I wouldn&8217;t come,&8221; one trainer said.

Another person at the club said fighting roosters was why he had never gotten involved with illegal activities.

Mike (not his real name) said he has been raising roosters since he was 8 years old and that the discipline and diligence required to care for the birds was the only reason he is not in jail.

&8220;I can name 15 friends I grew up with who are all in jail,&8221; Mike, 26, said.

With the bulk of his after-school time taken up tending his chickens Mike, who cuts trees for a living, said he just never had time to get in trouble.

&8220;Four-thirty was my appointed time to feed,&8221; he said. &8220;They&8217;d be out robbing a house, I&8217;d be home feeding chickens; they&8217;d be out smoking dope and wanting me to smoke dope with them, but I can&8217;t because I&8217;ve got to go home and feed the chickens. I don&8217;t have time to play with y&8217;all.&8221;

Crystal, a mother of five, was watching her roosters fight Friday. She brought two of her teenage nephews with her, one of who had just been sent from an urban environment in the east to live with her to keep him on the straight and narrow. She said the family atmosphere of the derby was a safe, clean place to spend the evening.

Crystal agreed with Mike&8217;s assessment that work of raising chickens keeps kids out of trouble.

&8220;They don&8217;t have time for anything else,&8221; she said.

Herself the daughter and granddaughter of avid cock fighters, she said she knew of what she spoke.

&8220;I don&8217;t drink, I don&8217;t do drugs and eight months out of the year I fight roosters,&8221; she said. &8220;I have two jobs and the kids help out at the house.&8221;

Kinchen said people have forgotten their relationship with animals and that children aren&8217;t taught the realities of death, especially when it comes to the things we eat.

&8220;They don&8217;t do that any more. They don&8217;t tell them anything bad, they don&8217;t let them hear anything bad. That&8217;s crazy.

&8220;If you don&8217;t teach kids that something bad happens in contrast to something good, you aren&8217;t teaching the whole truth,&8221; he said. &8220;How many fourth-graders, &8230; when they sat down to eat a pork chop or bacon, if you told them that it comes from that hog over there you just killed, they&8217;d call you a liar. We&8217;re not teaching our kids the truth about how life is.&8221;