When one thinks of cock-fighting roosters, they might think of two roosters in a small enclosure who may peck at each other every once in a while. That’s what I thought.

I never imagined the horror these animals go through or the mental state they are put in to become fighting roosters. While dog-fighting has become a well-known subject publicized by the Michael Vick case among others, it never ceases to amaze me how little people know about cock-fighting and how innocent they believe it to be.

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Rescuing Roosters

Recently, SASHA Farm received twelve former cockfighting roosters rescued by the Cleveland Animal Protective League (APL). Fifteen roosters in total were found in a horrid conditions.

According to the Cleveland APL, the roosters were found in, “a filthy room in the basement with raw sewage. Some of the roosters were housed in individual enclosures that were full of feces.”

To make matters even worse, “No water was available for any of the birds in the enclosures,” further, “The only food available was corn and not all birds had access to that.”

There were also makeshift pens smeared with blood as well as spurs, syringes, medications, timers and performance enhancement drugs. Certainly this was a cock-fighting operation that was only focused on making money without giving any thought to the harm it would cause to these roosters.

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As could be expected given the squalor of their former lives, the birds were in very poor condition when they got to SASHA Farm Sanctuary, where I volunteer. Most of the roosters had clipped spurs, cut-off combs, and some even had missing eyes or were completely blind. Though cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states within the United States, it is still legal in Puerto Rico, which is where these 15 birds were being prepared to be sent.

The Rehabilitation Process

The thing that’s been the most startling after meeting these roosters is the mentality they have to fight – having spent their entire lives fighting, it has become incredibly engrained within their personalities. After months of care, the roosters are only just now being allowed to roam free in the chicken yards.

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The Cleveland Twelve: Rehabilitating Cock-Fighting Roosters

 

Prior to coming to SASHA, the roosters were always taught to fight one another. Though we’re not sure exactly how they were trained, it’s apparent they were taught from a young age to attack other fighting roosters. Roosters naturally will only peck one another when fighting for food, territory, or a mate – but these roosters would attack one another for no reason at all.

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Getting the roosters acclimated to living in a flock has been the most difficult challenge. When they first arrived at the sanctuary, they were all kept in separate, individual cages to prevent them from attacking one another. They would be let out individually, under strict supervision and weren’t allowed near any other roosters.

The Cleveland Twelve: Rehabilitating Cock-Fighting Roosters

 

Despite their aggressive nature toward one another, it was clear that these roosters were anything but a lost cause. Right from the beginning, they all showed a marked improvement just from being out of the basement where they were found. Seeing them cautiously approach the barn door to go outside and curiously explore the grass was such an amazing thing to witness.

The Cleveland Twelve: Rehabilitating Cock-Fighting Roosters

 

Just with every animal that comes to SASHA, each rooster has their own personality.  These special roosters have all been named famed rock stars – Iggy Pop, Axl Rose, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, and Sting rank among our budding flock of rockers. We gave the roosters these particular names because their extravagant feathers make them stick out in their flocks and truly live up to their rock star namesakes. At this point, most have been integrated into the flocks and are doing well. They now exhibit little aggression and very few problems.

The Cleveland Twelve: Rehabilitating Cock-Fighting Roosters

Hope for Other Roosters

A lot of our knowledge about rehabilitating roosters came from VINE Sanctuary, which initially developed the method of rehabilitating former cock-fighting roosters. With their experience, it made rehabilitating these roosters all that much easier.

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Unfortunately, because of the time and extra effort needed for these roosters, many sanctuaries are reluctant to take in former fighting roosters. This is completely understandable – even after nearly 5 months, the roosters rescued by SASHA are only beginning to act like normal roosters again.  Extensive amounts of time and effort has gone to getting our roosters to where they are now, and few sanctuaries have that available to them.

But luckily, these roosters will be able to leave their fighting days behind and get to live out their lives as they want – exploring the grass, roosting, and just being in the sun.

If interested in supporting SASHA Farm or sponsoring one of these roosters, check out SASHA Farm’s website.  If interested in learning more about rehabilitating roosters, visit VINE Sanctuary’s page on Rooster Rehab by clicking here.

All image source: SASHA Farm Sanctuary

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