Slate's Explainer: A Life for Birds After Cockfighting?

The FBI recently arrested more than 100 people for running a cockfighting ring in Tennessee. Slate contributor Daniel Engber explains whether fighting birds can ever be rehabilitated.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

In Newport, Tennessee, over the weekend, FBI agents raided what may have been the nation's largest illegal cockfight at the notorious Del Rio Cockfight Pit. They arrested almost 150 people and seized about 300 fighting roosters, which were then euthanized under the direction of the Humane Society of the United States. Why can't we teach those fighting chickens to just get along? That's an Explainer question, and here with the answer is Daniel Engber of our partner at the online magazine Slate.

DAVID ENGBER (Slate): Very few people have tried to rehabilitate fighting birds. They aren't very popular as pets, and animal welfare workers assume that other gamecock owners would be the only ones willing to adopt them. Since gamecocks can't cohabit peacefully, attempts to rehabilitate them would have to include solitary confinement, which itself may be inhumane.

The fighting birds at Del Rio included roosters that had been brought across state lines in violation of federal law. The birds' owners could have been subject to a per-bird fine of up to $15,000. As a result, no one present at the pit claimed any of the gamecocks. If a breeder did claim ownership, the state would house the birds at a shelter until the end of the criminal trial. This can be quite costly, since each gamecock must be kept separate from the others and some need veterinary care. In Tennessee and a few other states, if a criminal defendant is found guilty, then he can be forced to pay these costs.

There isn't much hope for fighting dogs, either. According to the Humane Society, game-bred dogs should also be euthanized when dogfight rings are broken up. A pit bull that's bred for fighting will often be calm around humans but very aggressive with other dogs. But many rescue groups do try to rehabilitate fighting dogs. Trainers say that an animal's chance for reform depends on its personality. Workers at animal shelters can apply a temperament test to a dog with a questionable background. The test might involve observing the dog interacting with food or toys, or meeting and greeting other dogs and human strangers.

CHADWICK: Daniel Engber is a contributor to our online partner, Slate magazine.

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CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. NPR's DAY TO DAY continues.

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