Out, Out, Damn Sport!

Voters seem certain to do what the Arizona Legislature has repeatedly refused to do--ban cockfighting, and hasten the death of a way of life

According to the National Broiler Council, Arizonans buy more than 90 million factory-slaughtered chickens a year. By comparison, the most liberal of estimates put the number of roosters that die each year in Arizona cockfights at 9,000 to 13,000.

"I don't know about you, but I'd rather live the good life for a couple years and die in a fight," Hodges says.

And that's another thing, he says. How many of the people who will vote for Proposition 201 eat chicken? And of those, how many have a clue as to the horrific treatment a factory-farmed chicken undergoes before it's slaughtered?

"We all live with inconsistencies," answers Massey. "And the truth is, in our society as it functions today, animals are going to die for our use. My concern is with how and why: Is it a question of sustenance, or joy?"

Hodges, care to retort?
"Hey, I'll tell you what: If you don't like cockfighting, don't go. I don't particularly care for golfing, but I don't think golfers should be put in jail."

Hodges has been in this fight since 1954, about a year after Tucson passed an ordinance that outlawed cockfighting within city limits. Hodges refereed a fight to provoke a deliberate test case, got arrested and appealed his case to the Arizona Supreme Court, which cleared him on the grounds that chickens were not protected under the animal cruelty law upon which the ordinance was based.

Since then, cockfighting foes have induced sympathetic lawmakers to introduce bills to criminalize the sport 23 times, and 23 times Hodges got the word out, packed a hearing room with cockfighters, and got the bill shelved.

The last skirmish was in 1996, when a bill sponsored by Representative Andy Nichols went before the House Judiciary Committee. It was February 14, statehood day. Massey and other animal rights activists remember it as "The Valentine's Day massacre."

Cockfighters outnumbered their foes five to one, according to the minutes of the hearing, and the bill's supporters blew off their own foot early when one cited a Yale University study establishing a link between animal cruelty and violent, felonious behavior. The lawmakers were reminded that many famous serial killers had tortured animals when they were children.

"It was pretty ludicrous," remembers Representative Tom Smith, then chairman of the House committee. "They came in and argued this illogical, quantum leap that cockfighters are turning their children into a bunch of John Wayne Gacys."

Among the flurry of cockfighters who testifed at the hearing was Frank Celaya Jr. of Buckeye, who removed a prosthetic leg and used it like a gavel to punctuate his testimony.

"Mr. Celaya testified that he fought for his country in Vietnam and was wounded while there," the minutes report. "He said that he was fighting for freedom, and trying to ban cockfighting is an attempt to take part of that freedom away."

"He got his point across," recalls Smith.
House Bill 2519, which would have made raising gamecocks a misdemeanor, was rejected on an 8-3 vote.

Determined to halt cockfights, Massey decided on a new tactic. "I realized we needed to get out of the Capitol building, and onto the streets." And so he started raising money and recruiting petition circulators. And he was successful.

The Citizens Against Cockfighting needed 112,961 signatures from registered voters to put Proposition 201 on the November 3 ballot. In July, Massey turned in 188,000 signatures, more than 150,000 of which were qualified by elections officials. (Massey gathered signatures many days in Tucson, wearing a three-inch cockfighting knife around his neck like a pendant.)

"Until now, we only had to deal with state legislators who had good, common sense and understood rights and freedoms," Hodges complains. "Now, enough foreigners have come into Arizona, all these out-of-staters, that they got this damn thing on the ballot."

The 188,000 signatures were gathered by a combination of more than 200 volunteers and $23,500 worth of paid petition circulators. Through August 19, according to the CAC's campaign finance reports, the anti-cockfighting group had received nearly $80,000 in donations, including $5,000 from the Animal Protection Institute in Sacramento, California; $1,000 from the Animal Legal Defense Fund in Petaluma, California; $5,000 from the Humane Farming Action Fund in San Rafael, California; and $10,000 from the Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. The rest of the money is from hundreds of individual donations, mostly in the $15 to $100 range.

"They kill these poor victims for spectator sport, just as the Romans used to set lions against bears in an amphitheater and spectators would delight in the blood and gore," Arizona Humane Society executive director and CAC board member Ken White wrote in a June fund-raising letter.

"[Cockfighting] has remained alive because a small but influential cell of cockfighters has been able to block efforts to ban the activity. Now facing the prospect of trying to influence millions of voters rather than a handful of powerful legislative leaders, the cockfighters are busying themselves to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars."

By the end of last month, according to campaign finance reports, the cockfighters had busied themselves enough to raise a total of $788 (this figure does not reflect money raised at the rock quarry).

"Cockfighters are mostly working people," Hodges says. "We have to bleed our people for any amount."

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