Fallbrook made the national news Sunday in a way residents probably wished it hadn't: San Diego County Sheriff's deputies broke up a cockfighting operation there, arresting at least two people and citing about 30 others with misdemeanors.
Acting on reports provided by residents, deputies raided what they described as a cockfighting arena in the midst of an avocado grove at around 10:30 a.m. The deputies and county animal control officers spent the rest of the day putting down 200 of the estimated 250 or so fighting roosters found at the site.
“Putting down” is, of course, a euphemism for euthanasia: A more direct way of saying it would be that the workers spent an entire day and much of the night giving lethal injections to the birds, one at a time, for hours. About 45 other so-called gamecocks were kept alive as evidence.
“The officers finally cleared the place around 10:30 p.m.—they spent a really exhausting day out there injecting the birds,” says Lt. Dan Desousa of county Animal Services. “They hated to do it, but it was a more humane option than the birds being ripped to shreds.”
Martin Mersereau, director of the emergency response division of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), agreed with Desousa that ending the roosters' lives was the only reasonable course to take. Fighting roosters are extremely aggressive and, more often than not, hopped up on steroids and amphetamines. Housing or adopting out the animals was a practical impossibility.
“Animals used for fighting purposes are horribly abused,” Mersereau said by phone from PETA's headquarters in Norfolk, Va. “They're really a great threat to other animals and to people and children. It's a sad statement on an already tragic affair to say that the kindest thing to do to animals who have experienced such exploitation and abuse is to release them from this world. We support what the authorities had to do.”
Cockfighting is illegal in the United States, but remains a popular underground activity. In San Diego County, authorities broke up an even larger ring earlier in the year. Participants wager enormous sums of money on the hopes their birds will be the ones still breathing in the end. It's also a social activity among those for whom non-lethal combat sports don't cut it: In the Fallbrook avocado grove, deputies found food, beer and booze among the cages and bodies of birds who had died from neglect.
Sheriff's officials couldn't be reached by press time for comment, but Simran Noon, a spokesperson for the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA, says euthanasia exacts an emotional price on the people forced to provide it.
“It's very hard on people when it comes to that—remember, these are people who care about animals,” she says. “We offer our employees one- to two-day compassion-fatigue workshops. Compassion fatigue is what the animal-welfare industry calls it when you're burnt out, tired and fatigued by the compassion you exhibit watching after these animals.”