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When animal cruelty is tagged as ‘cultural tradition’

By Thomas Pool

Earlier this year I wrote an article on these pages about the morality of pain. The essence was that any creature that can experience pain has the same right that we have to be free of unwarranted pain. None of us leave this life alive, but there is no justification for creating extreme pain.

Last month, Rep. James Moylan, Guam’s delegate to the U.S. Congress, kicked sand all over that idea. He launched a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives to allow the territories to ignore federal law and host legal cockfights where drug-addled roosters are fitted with razor-sharp gaffs and forced to slash each other to ribbons. The fight ends with the death of one or both roosters merely for the cruel pleasure of depraved onlookers who bet vast sums of money on the contest.

Rep. Moylan insists that this bill is about "sending a message to the federal government that you just can't come in blindly and ban a centuries-old tradition in a U.S. territory."

Right. Let's stick it to The Man. Except it was The Man who introduced cockfighting to Guam. Our Guam representative is right about the tradition being centuries old. It has been precisely three and a half centuries since the Spanish dominated and decimated the indigenous people of Guam.

In less than 30 years, between 1672 and 1700, 90 percent of Guam’s native population were killed or relocated to other Spanish possessions. What better way to end complaints about "our land" than to disappear the landowners? Those fierce men gave us their ruthless sport of cockfighting. Before the Spanish brought them, there were no chickens in Guam. And now Rep. Moylan insists that we honor those evil men and their evil sport and declare it our tradition.

This proposed legislation, this celebration of ignorance and thuggery, will not be rewarded. There is not a snowball's chance in hell that this bill will pass, and Rep. Moylan knows it.

The Animal Fighting Prohibition Reinforcement Act of 2007 made cockfighting a felony across the United States and all of the territories. The territories have challenged that law in every court in America except the Supreme Court and lost every single time.

So, why did he do it? I can only assume for the usual reasons—the worst reasons— and I am profoundly disappointed in him. I voted for him last year, eagerly. I believed that he could really make things better. I was appalled when I saw this most recent high dive into the muck because cockfighting is drenched in criminal behavior. What kind of people find pleasure in needless suffering? The question answers itself.


Animal fighting is typically entangled with other crimes, including human trafficking, narcotics sales, and money laundering. Just yesterday, the feds won a conviction of a cockfighter involved in gun trafficking.

Earlier this year, two were killed and three wounded at a cockfight in Hawaii and a shooting at a Dallas cockfight. Trafficking of U.S.-reared fighting animals drives illegal cockfighting in the Philippines and Mexico.

In 2022, more than $13 billion was wagered on online cockfights, also known as e-sabong, in the Philippines. Last year, 32 people in the Philippines were kidnapped and never found, while 20 were murdered at a cockfighting derby in Mexico, including two U.S. residents.


Cockfighting spreads diseases, threatening the commercial poultry industry and human health and costing our nation billions of dollars. The smuggling of cockfighting birds from Mexico was the cause of 10 of 15 outbreaks of virulent Newcastle Disease to hit the U.S. in recent decades. In Asia, cockfighting played a role in spreading H5N1 or "bird flu."

It can play the same position in spreading a deadly zoonotic disease here. There is no redeeming feature or kinder face of this horrific pastime. Children are taken to these cockfights; another generation is trained to ignore or revel in needless suffering.

Rep. Moylan is listening to the voices of the cockfighters. I hope he will hear from people who do not want to honor the cruel traditions of the most brutal men to ever set foot on Guam. Like human slavery, cockfighting is not a tradition that anyone should celebrate.

Dr. Thomas Pool is a senior veterinarian for Animal Wellness Action. He served as the territorial veterinarian for Guam for 17 years. Send feedback to

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