Guam cockfighters placing their last bets
Rows of cages lie in Frank Taianao’s backyard in Yigo. He keeps more than 150 game fowls that he has shipped from off-island. He paid $500 for each rooster. “That is $350 for the rooster and about $150 for the shipping,” he said.
The federal ban on cockfighting takes effect in a week and getting rid of the cocks is a conundrum that Taianao struggles to resolve. For him, slaughtering them all and stuffing them in the pot is an inconceivable idea. “Who eats a $500 chicken? What kind of gourmet chicken dish costs $500?” Taianao quipped.
Dec. 20 marks the end of the cockfighting industry on Guam and other territories by virtue of a ban that animal welfare advocates say is long overdue.
U.S. lawmakers slipped the ban into last year’s farm bill, amid protests from U.S. territories where cockfighting has been a long-standing tradition that dates back to the Spanish occupation.
“It came as a shock and we are not happy about it. They created a law to shut us down and the people of Guam had no say in it,” Taianao said, taking the local leaders to task for failing to block the federal imposition. “That’s what we elected them for. We spoke to the governor and senators and they assured us they would help us on this issue.”
Taianao complained about the lack of guidelines on what to do with the game fowls when the ban sets in. “Am I going to kill them all? They were brought up for cockfighting purposes. Now you say I am a criminal and I am going to go to jail for this?”
The Office of Attorney General said any violation of the cockfighting ban will not be prosecuted locally. "Because there is no local basis for criminal action, if the OAG receives any complaints, it will be forwarded to federal law enforcement authorities," Attorney General Leevin Camacho said.
Despite the enactment of federal law last year, local stakeholders and cockfighters continued to invest in the cockfighting business.
Taianao said it cost him $3,000 a year for feeds, vitamins and medications alone. “I paid $27 per sack of feeds. I had to buy three sacks a week,” he said. “Now, will the feds reimburse me for these expenses?”
Other related expenses include the construction of cages. “Nobody gets rich in cockfighting. We do this because it is our passion and it is part of our cultural tradition. My grandfather and father did it and cockfighting was part of my life growing up.”
Challenging the logic of the animal welfare activists, Taianao said: “They say roosters do not have a choice when we make them fight— that is their nature. But we slaughter chickens to eat them. Is that not cruelty? Do chickens have a choice when we kill them to be eaten? What is the difference?”
For local businesses that cater to cockfighting, the ban is a livelihood killer. “This ban ruins our business,” said a Dededo animal feed shop owner who requested anonymity.
The Dededo shop opened in August 2009. “We used to bring in 43,000 lbs of chicken feeds. After the law was passed last year, we cut it down to 32,000 lbs. Now it’s down to 200 bags, which is 10,000 lbs. I don’t know what we are going to do with our remaining supply,” the shop owner said. “We are forced to cut down our business. But it’s the federal law, what can we do?”
The Pacific island Times tried to seek comments from other animal feed shop owners but they declined to be interviewed.
The JQS Cockpit in Dededo announced on Facebook that its facility is shutting down on Dec. 13. But in the last remaining days, daily cockfights are scheduled at the Dennis Flores Cockpit until Dec. 18.
Fifty percent of proceeds from the last remaining cockfights, according to the Facebook post, are earmarked for “five churches who will then help the homeless this Christmas, which will hopefully put a smile on their faces.”
Amid protests from Guam cockfighters, the Animal Wellness Foundation and Animal Wellness Action released polling data from a “comprehensive, statistically valid survey of Guam residents about animal cruelty and cockfighting, with the survey revealing deep and broad support for an upgrade of the territory’s anti-cruelty law and for the federal ban on cockfighting.”
The poll, conducted by Market Research & Development, Inc. sampled 400 Guamanians, over a two-week period which concluded on Dec. 12.
The results of the poll indicate:
· Nine out of 10 Guamanians (89 percent) are concerned about the mistreatment of animals on Guam.
· About 90 percent believe animal cruelty laws on Guam should be strengthened.
· Only 7 percent of Guamanians have been to a cockfight in the last year.
· Only two out of ten (21 percent Guamanians favor cockfighting while 60 percent oppose it.
· More than half (52 percent of residents are not aware of the federal ban on cockfighting scheduled to go into effect on December 20.
· When it comes to the federal ban on cockfighting, 60 percent in favor the ban and only 25 percent oppose it.
“Our poll results reveal that Guamanians are concerned about animal cruelty on Guam in overwhelming numbers,” said Jay R. Merrill, president of Market Research & Development Inc. “Nearly everybody polled wants to see the Guam’s animal cruelty laws strengthened. In addition, a solid majority oppose cockfighting and support the federal ban.”
The Congress upgraded the federal law against animal fighting nearly one year ago, giving cockfighters and law enforcement a one-year grace period before the comprehensive ban takes effect.
“This poll should serve as a wake-up call to all of Guam’s political leaders,” noted Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action, a national organization promoting legal standards against cruelty. “The people of Guam don’t support staged fights between animals, and they are appalled by the idea that people attach knives to the roosters’ legs and watch them hack each other to death – all for our entertainment and for gambling.”
All 50 states ban cockfighting, and the federal government has enacted a comprehensive ban on cockfighting. Within recent weeks, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero has advised village mayors not to seek permission for cockfighting events at their festivals, because the activity is forbidden under federal law.
Earlier this week, AWF and Animal Wellness Action announced a rewards program to run for an indefinite time that provides a $2,500 reward for any individual who provides critical information that results in a successful federal prosecution of an individual or set of individuals who violate the federal law against animal fighting.
The publicizing of the rewards program will concentrate on the U.S. territories, where cockfighting is explicitly outlawed starting on December 20, 2019. The rewards program is mentioned on the new campaign website, www.endcockfighting.org, which will serve as a comprehensive resource about the issue and call citizens to action to help. AWF and AWA also today announced the launch of an advertising campaign to raise awareness about illegal cockfighting activities and urged cockfighting enthusiasts to observe the rule of law.
“It is a great honor to be part of an organization with a group of people whose mission is to help protect and defend animals from inhumane practices and cruelty.” said Chanel Cruz Jarrett, a former Miss Guam and the anti-cockfighting spokesperson for the Animal Wellness Foundation. “I’ve always been an advocate for the fair treatment of all animals and I am thrilled to know that, of the people on Guam who were polled, there is a huge percentage who are like-minded and want to see the cruel and unfair animal practices come to an end.”