On September 7, in what is being described as one of the largest cockfighting busts in Florida history, the ASPCA assisted with the removal of more than 600 fighting roosters, hens and chicks from two separate properties in Fort Myers. At the request of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and Lee County Domestic Animal Services, the ASPCA was on hand to assist with the removal and sheltering of the birds, who were voluntarily relinquished by their owners, and to lead the collection of forensic evidence for the investigation of a criminal case.
“The ASPCA was asked to support the efforts of the local authorities in this case, and toward that end have brought our expertise in animal fighting and forensic evidence collection to the table,” says Kathryn Destreza, ASPCA Southeast Director Field Investigations and Response.
William Roman, 54, was arrested and charged with running the operation, and faces charges of animal fighting and baiting, housing distressed animals and animal cruelty. Pedro Lopez, 38, was also arrested and charged with animal cruelty, housing distressed animals, possession of animals for fighting and baiting, trafficking in cocaine, possession of marijuana and the sale of marijuana.
The seizure is the result of an eight-month-long investigation that is still ongoing, according to the Lee County Sheriff’s Office. Many of the roosters were allegedly raised and prepared for fighting, and were housed in small elevated cages, inside wire fencing, in barns and running loose throughout both properties. Gaffs—long, sharp, dagger-like attachments used to maximize injury—as well as syringes and steroids were found at the scene.
“Cockfighting is a violent blood sport where the participants—the roosters—don’t have choices,” notes Tim Rickey, ASPCA Senior Director Field Investigations and Response. “These birds are forced to be killing machines for entertainment, during which time they die or are left to die a horrible death.” In Florida, cockfighting—as well as the possession of birds for fighting, being a spectator at a cockfight and possession of cockfighting implements—is a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in a state jail and a maximum $5,000 fine.
The seized animals—including 678 birds, three horses and two dogs—have been transferred to a secure location where forensic exams are being conducted by Dr. Melinda Merck and Dr. Robert Reisman of the ASPCA, Dr. Jason Byrd, Education Director of the University of Florida/ASPCA Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program in Gainesville, and Dr. Cynda Crawford, Maddie’s Clinical Assistant Professor of Shelter Medicine at UF College of Veterinary Medicine.
Please stay tuned to ASPCA.org for more information on this developing story.