“Cockfighting is Utah family tradition and lifestyle” – White and Fitzgerald

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Take the Poll from the article below.

  • Go to the Poll here.
  • What do you think of cock fighting?
    • Cock fighting is an inhumane blood sport. 54.79% (1,385 votes)
    • Cock fighting is a traditional and acceptable activity. 41.06% (1,038 votes)
    • I have no feelings about cock fighting. 4.15% (105 votes)
    • Total Votes: 2,528
  • What status should cockfighting have in Utah?
    • Cockfighting in Utah should be legal. 46.9% (841 votes)
    • Cockfighting in Utah should be a misdemeanor. 7.59% (136 votes)
    • Cockfighting in Utah should be a felony. 45.51% (816 votes)
    • Total Votes: 1,793

I would like to extend a sincere thank you to Jim Dalrymple II for including a pro-cockfighting link to “Legalize Cockfighting Freedom Petition Page” in his article below:

  • “The arguments made by White, Fitzgerald and others — including pro-cockfighting activists like David Devereaux — boil down to a few key points”

– Gameness til the End

Utah cockfighters say sport is tradition, not inhumane

But opponents say it’s a blood sport and don’t like Utah’s reputation as a haven.

By Jim Dalrymple II
The Salt Lake Tribune
First Published Mar 07 2014 09:50 pm • Last Updated Mar 09 2014 11:09 am

Sixty years ago, Jamen White’s great grandfather bought a cock. And then he let it fight.

White is a fourth-generation cockfighter. From his great-grandfather’s initial purchase, the family’s operation has grown to about 300 birds living on his property in Richfield. His grandfather, who lives in Monroe, also has game fowl chickens. And even White’s kids, the fifth generation, are into the birds — his 3-year-old daughter has a retired rooster she calls “Killer.”

For the Whites and some other Utahns, cockfighting is a traditional sport. It’s also one they say is far more innocuous than stereotypes — populated by drug dealers, prostitution and general lawlessness — would suggest, and they don’t want to be lumped in with hardened criminals like murderers and rapists.

“It’s kind of like a family reunion would be the best way to put it,” White said of a typical American cockfight.

But others — including lawmakers and the Humane Society of Utah — describe cockfighting as a ruthless blood sport, an unfortunate leftover from a violent, bygone era. That group wants to clamp down on cockfighting and is currently guiding a law through the Legislature that would increase penalties for fighting chickens.

The debate amounts to a battle over the kind of state Utahns want to live in. It’s a conflict about tradition verses animal rights, personal freedom versus safety, and urban life versus rural.

The law

The conflict over cockfighting has come to a head as a result of SB112, a proposal that would increase the penalties for fighting game fowl. Right now, cockfighting can earn practitioners a class B misdemeanor. The new bills would bump it up to a class A. Get busted a second time, and the crime becomes a third-degree felony — punishable by up to five years in prison.

The bill passed in the Senate last month and is currently making its way through the Utah House of Representatives.

Click here to read more about the progress of SB112.

Sen. Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake City, is sponsoring the law because he believes cockfighting is a blood sport. It’s inhumane, Davis argued during a recent interview, and Utah has more lenient laws than any other state, making it a magnet. Davis wants to change that.

“Do we want to be known as the only place in the west that you can fight roosters?” Davis wondered.

The fighters

But the proposed law has Utah cockfighters crying foul. They say the stereotypes are wrong and cockfighting is something they have been doing for generations. One of those people is Tim Fitzgerald.

(Keith Johnson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tim Fitzgerald at his home in Bluffdale, Utah, is an advocate to legalize cock fighting in Utah.

In a semi-rural area of Bluffdale, Fitzgerald tends what looks like a small city of roosters. In a grassy yard, about 20 birds are tethered to the ground, each just out of reach of the others. In rows of coops, dozens more keep up a constant chorus of crowing. As Fitzgerald surveys the scene, he points to the food, water and fresh bedding near the animals.

“They’re really well cared for,” he says. “I love animals, but I absolutely believe they have a use.”

Fitzgerald raises the birds to sell. He said he doesn’t fight them in the U.S. because it’s illegal — instead he makes a yearly pilgrimage to the Philippines, where cockfighting is a “national pastime.”

Fitzgerald and White were both willing to talk game fowl because they believe cockfighters have been on the defense for too long.

“I don’t see why they try to put us in the same category as murderers and rapists,” White said. “It’s not like we’re going out and killing somebody. People need to realize they’re animals, and that’s how they’re bred.”

The arguments made by White, Fitzgerald and others — including pro-cockfighting activists like David Devereaux — boil down to a few key points:

• Cockfighting is not inhumane, they say. The birds are territorial and aggressive, so fighting is a natural behavior.

• The birds are treated more humanely than those in industrial food facilities, where they are kept in small cages and have beaks and toes clipped to prevent fighting.

• Cockfighting doesn’t attract a criminal crowd, proponents argue. White said he has been to 1,000 fights in various states, including Utah, and never saw drugs or prostitution. Instead, he said, it’s “usually just the good old boys.”

The opponents

Davis and other supporters of the new law aren’t buying those arguments.

During a recent legislative committee meeting, Humane Society of Utah Director Gene Baierschmidt showed off two weapons or “gaffs” owners attach to the birds’ legs. The metal pieces are long, sharp spikes that Baierschmidt said rip the birds apart as they kick at each other. Fans of cockfighting say the blades speed death and make matches more humane, but Baierschmidt doesn’t agree.

“It’s like taking a hammer and pounding a nail into a chicken,” Baierschmidt said, adding that the birds sometimes bleed to death.

As far as Baierschmidt is concerned, cockfighting is brutal and inhumane, a way to watch birds suffer and die purely for entertainment.

Davis pointed out that cockfighting is already against the law, meaning any fights going on now are inherently criminal in nature. The laws are weak, however, and he said the minimal potential punishment recently led a cockfighting magazine to single out Utah as a good place for fighting. The justification was that in Utah cockfighting is only a misdemeanor while in other states it’s a felony.

Davis also pointed to a recent case in New York where police broke up a large cock-fighting operation that included thousands of birds. His point was that cockfighting is going on, including in Utah, even if it has faded from public life.

“It has gone underground,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s to our advantage to be the only state in the western United States to allow this.”

As Utah State Legislature seeks stiffer penalties for cockfighting, residents raising roosters fight back

Posted: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 2:40 pm
by Chad Hunt

Ruffled feathers
Ruffled feather
Jamon White holds one rooster as another leaps to pounce on it at his chicken farm near Richfield Monday afternoon. White, who raises gamecocks for sport, said proposed legislation to tighten restrictions on cockfighting seeks to destroy a family tradition spanning more than four generations.

It’s been a family tradition for more than four generations.

Jamon White’s great-grandfather, Max White, bought a rooster, and took it to a fight.

Now, 60 years later, Jamon White, Richfield, keeps some 300 birds — many of them gamecocks that are bred to battle.

“It’s been in the family, and it’s something I’ve grown up around and took an interest to,” White said. “I married into it, too. My father-in-law raises roosters.”

Now, with his children entering a fifth generation raising fowl, White said he is concerned legislation pushing stiffer penalties on the sport will destroy that family tradition for his posterity.

“Everything that I’ve grown up and love, they’re trying to take it away,” White said. “I want my son to be able to enjoy it, too.”

Senate Bill 112, which passed the Utah Senate last month by an 18-5 vote and passed the House committee last week 7-2, looks to increase penalties for cockfighting.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic minority leader Sen. Gene Davis, would bump the penalty for cockfighting from a class B to a class A misdemeanor, and make it a third-degree felony offense on the second conviction. Penalties for a second conviction could be punishable by up to five years in prison.

White said he is concerned that the passage of this bill opens the door for animal activists to infringe on other animal rights.

“It’s a tumbling effect,” White said. “What’s going to be next? Hunting? This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

White said cockfighting has not only a rich tradition in his family, but in the American way of life. He said it’s not something that is talked about much, but battling roosters is as popular as ever.

“There’s more people than you’d think that do it around here,” White said. “It really isn’t what it’s been made out to be. We’re not ruthless, blood-hungry killers.”

According to White, the sport is nothing more than using them for their God-given purpose. He said he has never had to train a bird to attack, it’s just what it does naturally.

“They’re meant to fight,” White said. “They’re aggressive, it’s their nature. If I put two roosters next to each other, they’ll fight — it’s bred into them. I defy you to make two of these birds fight. If they don’t want to fight, there’s nothing stopping them from leaving.”

Like any game animal, White said when it’s breeding season, roosters seek to assert their dominance to woo their potential mates. He said he treats his birds with the best care possible, giving them open spaces with individual bedding, keeping them well-fed, staying up-to-date with vaccinations and maintaining their overall health and wellness.

“Compared to most animals, these birds are spoiled,” White said.

Not everyone sees things like White, however.

According to Sundays Hunt, state director for The Humane Society, felony laws are crucial because cockfighters seek out states with the weakest laws to carry out what she called their abusive practices. She said currently, Utah has the weakest laws against cockfighting in the west, which makes the state a magnet for the illegal sport.

Upon the passage of SB 112 from the House committee Thursday, Hunt said Utah was one step closer to having “meaningful punishment” for cockfighting.

“[This] blood sport is a growing problem in Utah and … the current law is too weak to deter them [the cockfighters],” Hunt said. “We urge the House to move quickly to pass this bill so this cruel and illegal activity will lose any foothold it has gained in our state.”

Sevier County Sheriff Nathan Curtis said while some people look it as cruel and unusual punishment, there are many issues involving animals and people that could be seen as much more cruel and abusive.

“Sometimes, our laws are a little backwards; you can get a stiffer penalty for beating a dog than a person,” Curtis said. “There are people who feel it’s cruel and unusual punishment, but how often do we go out and hunt animals just to put another trophy on the wall.”

Curtis said there are more pressing issues for his department, and cockfighting is something that has never come up as a problem.

“We haven’t had any trouble from anyone [regarding cockfighting],” Curtis said. “Zero complaints.”

Dick Weeks, another rooster owner in Sevier County, said he doesn’t see fighting roosters as a problem, but rather something that has happened for generations throughout the state, and it isn’t going anywhere.

“I’ve been doing this since I was 14 years old,” Weeks said. “I have roosters whose lines I can trace back to the 1950s. They’ve been with me forever.”

Weeks said raising the birds is more for him than making them fight — it’s a hobby and an investment.

“I have a buddy who likes to golf, but he can’t eat them golf balls,” Weeks said. “These chickens have paid my mortgage more than once.”

Weeks said he harvests eggs and butchers some of the birds to eat, while others are bred for fighting, which makes them more valuable.

“It’s my personal business,” Weeks said. “There are people in all walks of life who fight birds. It’s a lifestyle.”

Weeks said to him, SB 112, is being perpetrated by interests that don’t understand it, and whom he believes have ulterior motives.

“We’ve had enough of it,” Weeks said. “It’s time to come out, fight back and do something about this.”

Trib Talk: What should penalty be for cockfighting?

Published on Mar 11, 2014 01:25PM<

Lawmakers are considering stiffer penalties for cockfighting, changing the activity from a misdemeanor to a felony for repeat offenders. But cockfighting does have its supporters.

On Tuesday at 12:15 p.m., cock fighting supporter Tim Fitzgerald, Carl Arky from the Humane Society of Utah and Tribune reporter Jim Dalrymple join Jennifer Napier-Pearce to talk about the cock fighting tradition and the movement to outlaw the practice.

Join the Discussion
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You can join the discussion by sending questions and comments to the hashtag #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+. You can also text comments to 801-609-8059.
jnpearce@sltrib.com
Twitter: @jnpearce




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