House considers stricter cockfighting laws

The N.C. House is considering a measure that would make it illegal to breed gamecocks for fighting purposes or to possess cockfighting equipment.

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Cockfighting 'slashers'
Laura Leslie

The state House is considering a measure that would make it illegal to breed gamecocks for fighting purposes or to possess cockfighting equipment.

Cockfighting itself is illegal under current state law, but authorities can only charge people caught in the act, usually during a raid. In the meantime, said sponsor Rep. Dan Ingle, R-Alamance, “Breeders openly raise fighting roosters, knowing animal control can’t do anything about it.”

Johnston County Animal Services Director Ernie Wilkinson says breeding is going on in almost every county in the state. Because North Carolina doesn’t outlaw it, he told the committee, “We almost serve as a breeding community for states around us.”

“Bloodsports and crime and social ills go together,” Wilkinson said.“We need this tool in our toolbox out in the field.”

Iredell Animal Control Supervisor Randy Grannaman brought a bag full of cockfighting paraphernalia seized in a raid last year. He showed the committee a narrow, ornate wooden chest, holding a drawer of “slashers” – sharpened metal knives tied onto the birds’ feet before they’re put into the pit to fight.

“They’re made to puncture the birds’ skulls or hearts,” he explained, adding that he collected 200 knives at that raid alone.

Grannaman also showed lawmakers “muffs” used to cover the birds’ natural spurs during practice, and a bottle of a stimulant he says owners buy online and inject into the birds before they fight. “It’s like speed for a chicken,” he said.

House Bill 395 would make it a felony to make, possess, buy, sell or transport “slashers” or “gaffs,” another ice-pick-like weapon commonly attached to fighting birds’ heels, or any other “device intended to enhance an animal’s fighting ability.”

The measure would also make it a felony to breed, possess, sell or train a fighting bird “with the intent” of using the bird for fighting purposes. And that has some rooster breeders worried.

Former state Rep. Nurham Warwick now represents the North Carolina Gamefowl Breeders Association. He says hobby and show breeding of gamecocks is a $50 million industry in North Carolina, and he’s concerned about how “intent” will be defined out in the field.

“Some people just raise them in the backyard for the kids,” he said. "A lot of people show them at the State Fair." 

Morganton gamecock breeder Gerald Allen agreed. “Our biggest fear is for law enforcement to come on our yard and destroy our birds for show purposes,” he said.

Allen said he’s afraid officials will euthanize birds they believe are being bred for the fighting ring. “Where’s the humane in that?”

The bill is expected back in House Judiciary Committee next week, when it could come up for a vote.

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