Did you know that on any given day across Australia, people can pay to watch illegal animal blood sports?
Unbeknown to most Australians, cockfighting and dog fighting continue to occur under the radar as so few people realise how common these illegal operations are. At present the exact number of dog fighting and cockfighting rings around Australia is unknown, however estimates are in the hundreds. To put this into perspective, just last year, NSW police raided a property at Horsley Park where masses of cockfighting paraphernalia and over 540 birds were found1.
Unfortunately, these inhumane “sports” continue to flourish, perpetuated by individuals who feel no remorse in harming animals for the sake of profit. Investigations conducted by NSW police in conjunction with the RSPCA have discovered that many cockfighting and dog fighting activities can also be linked to other criminal activities including the drug trade and firearm trade.
What is cockfighting?
Cockfighting is a blood sport in which two roosters are placed beak to beak in a small, enclosed ring, and encouraged to fight to the death2.
Roosters used in cockfights are bred and raised specifically for the purpose of fighting and are intentionally made to be more aggressive through diet, training, steroids, and vitamins. Breeders will often kill roosters they deem inferior, keeping only the strongest, most aggressive birds for fighting. Most of these birds will then spend their lives in small, cramped, wire cages – another cruel tactic used by breeders to increase the aggression of the rooster.
How are fighting roosters abused?
Breeders will “condition” the roosters to fight by forcing them to perform various physical activities such as:
- Running long obstacle courses or even running on treadmills
- Have “practice fights” with other roosters during which the birds will have weights attached to their legs3.
- Roosters are tormented by having their beaks and feathers pulled to cause aggression.
The roosters are also brutally mutilated prior to fighting, as a way of “gaining advantage” over the opposing rooster. Some of these practices include:
- Cutting off the roosters’ wattles/combs (the wobbly flesh on top of their heads and under their chins) so that the opposing rooster cannot tear them off. This has a significant impact as a rooster’s wattle or comb allows them to regulate their body temperature and cool themselves.
- Plucking their feathers so that opposing birds cannot do this in the ring.
- Removing a rooster’s natural spurs and replacing them with sharper metal spurs. This involves cutting off a rooster’s own spurs, which could cause great pain4.
What happens during a cockfight?
Once in the ring, roosters often wear knives or artificial gaffs (long, dagger-like attachments) that are sharpened to inflict maximum injury. Some common injuries that the roosters receive include punctured lungs, pierced eyes, broken bones, and deep cuts.
What’s more, there is no way for them to escape when they are hurt and want to back down from the other opponent5. In their natural habitat, roosters may fight each other for social status or mating rights, but these fights are usually short lived and not as vicious. The roosters can forfeit the fight when they see fit, and back away. In cockfighting, these options are taken away from the roosters and they are forced to continue fighting whilst surrounded by a crowd of cheering and shouting spectators, creating a truly terrifying experience for them6.
In many cases, birds who do not die during the fight are often so badly injured and exhausted that they are killed following the fight. However, this is not always the case. In some illegal cockfighting rings, owners who believe there is more value to be gained from their rooster in another fight, may attempt to treat the injuries themselves rather than risk being reported while seeking medical help from a vet. Roosters who are surgically treated by untrained and unqualified owners suffer even more unnecessary pain7.
Disturbingly, cockfighting is a lot more common in Australia than most people realise. For example, just last year, in an operation conducted by NSW police, a cockfighting syndicate in Sydney’s Horsley Park was raided. At the property they discovered “540 fighting cockerels, roosters and chickens as well as cockfighting paraphernalia, including razor sharp spurs used to transform the animals into lethal weapons”.
Spurred on by the allure of gambling and profits, the cockfighting industry continues to exist in Australia today because of those looking to make quick, unregulated cash at the expense of an animal’s life.
What is dog fighting?
Dog fighting is another inhumane blood sport which sees dogs who have been bred, conditioned, and trained to fight, placed into a pit or ‘fighting ring’ where they attack each other for hours until one or both dogs are severely injured or killed – all for the sake of spectator entertainment and profit.
Causing horrific animal suffering, dog fighting rings perpetuate an illegal and unethical underground economy of gambling, dog breeding, and dog sales. Some fights in Australia have reported to have winnings totalling over $700,000, which does not include the side wagering that occurs in most of these instances8.
How are dogs used for fighting abused?
Like cockfighting, dogs bred for dog fighting are trained to be extremely aggressive towards each other. When injured during fights, it is reported that most owners will attend to the injuries themselves, rather than risk criminal charges if caught out by a vet. In many instances, fighting dogs will be severely mauled and maimed requiring urgent professional medical attention – yet they are forced to suffer this pain without proper treatment.
Some of the horrific acts of cruelty that fighting dogs can be subjected to include:
- Dogs kept for fighting are beaten and deprived of food and water to make them aggressive
- They are often kept chained up or penned, deprived of the ability to walk around or play
- Weights are placed around their necks during ‘training’ to build up their muscular strength
- They may be forced to wear electric shock collars
- They are tied to treadmills and forced to run on them as a form of exercise and ‘conditioning’
- Often they are injected with steroids or cocaine to ‘improve’ their performance
- Owners may cut off their tails and ears to avoid them being bitten by the opposing dog during a fight9
- Fights can last hours and will only end once one dog has been killed or is too badly injured to continue.
- Even dogs that survive the fight often die shortly afterwards from injuries, blood loss, infection, and a lack of proper veterinary care10
- Dogs who win fights are forced to fight over and over again
- Winning dogs are also used to breed puppies for profit. If they are a female, they are strapped down to “rape stands” to prevent fighting while males impregnate them11.
- Many of the dogs who don’t make the cut as “fighters” will be used as bait dogs in training matches. ‘Bait dogs’ will often have their mouths taped shut so they cannot fight back. Sadly, many animals can be used as ‘bait’ including smaller dogs, cats, and other small animals who do not pose an injury risk for the dog in training.
Although dog fighting is illegal in Australia, it is estimated there are at least 150 illegal dog fighting rings still active across the country today12.
In order to eradicate these heinous “sports” for good, we as individuals need to remain vigilant in our communities and report any known or suspected animal welfare concerns. It is only by speaking up that we can give a voice to the voiceless and stop animal cruelty in its tracks. Together, we can make our world a better place for animals.
2 ASPCA, https://www.aspca.org/improving-laws-animals/public-policy/cockfighting, last accessed on 07/04/21
3 PETA, https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/cruel-sports/cockfighting/, last accessed on 07/04/21
4 PETA, https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/cruel-sports/cockfighting/, last accessed on 07/04/21
5 One Green Planet, https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/5-shocking-things-you-didnt-know-about-cockfighting/, last accessed on 07/04/21
6 One Green Planet, https://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/5-shocking-things-you-didnt-know-about-cockfighting/, last accessed on 07/04/21
7 RSPCA, https://kb.rspca.org.au/knowledge-base/is-cock-fighting-legal-in-australia/, last accessed on 07/04/21
8 Humane Society International, https://hsi.org.au/blog/australias-hidden-dogfighting-problem/, last accessed on 07/04/21
9 Animal Justice Party, https://nsw.animaljusticeparty.org/dog-fighting/#:~:text=Dog%20fighting%20in%20Australia,occurring%20multiple%20times%20each%20year. , last accessed on 07/04/21
10 Pet Keen, https://petkeen.com/dog-fighting-statistics/#1_Fighting_dogs_endure_horrific_training_routines, last accessed on 07/04/21
11 PETA, https://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/cruel-sports/dogfighting/ , last accessed on 07/04/21
12 Daily Mail, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7458947/Inside-Australias-brutal-dog-fighting-rings-//undeterred-attempts-bring-justice.html, last accessed on 07/04/21