LIHU‘E — Eye to eye, razor-sharp blades attached to their spurs, two fighting cocks lunge at each other.
Feathers, dust and blood mix together, while spectators scream in a frenzy.
With luck, it will be over in seconds, one cock standing tall and the other, dead.
Had this fight happened in a natural environment, it would’ve been similar to a neighbor squabble rather than a gladiator match. Once the winning rooster asserts his seniority, the birds go back to their business, pecking mindlessly.
But in a fighting ring, breeders and spectators put their money down and birds put their lives on the line — kill or be killed.
Cockfighting has been around for more than 6,000 years, according to historians. On Kauai, it was introduced by Filipino immigrants during the island’s early plantation days.
The Humane Society of the United States says it’s true that cockfighting had been a practice for centuries in several countries, including the U.S., but that doesn’t mean it’s right or acceptable.
“At one time the United States allowed slavery, lacked child abuse laws, and refused women the right to vote,” HSUS states on its website.
As a matter of fact, nowhere in the U.S. is cockfighting legal. But in some places, laws are lax enough where prosecution is difficult or nearly non-existent.
Hawaii is one of those places.
Among all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, Hawaii ranks 47th when it comes down to laws regarding cockfighting, according to HSUS.
Cockfighting is a misdemeanor in Hawaii, under animal-cruelty laws, and conviction could bring a maximum sentence of one year in jail and up to $2,000 in fines.
In 35 states and in the District of Columbia, cockfighting is a felony. Being caught in New Hampshire or Pennsylvania could result in seven years behind bars. In Arizona, the fines could reach $150,000, in Oregon it could be $125,000, and in Kansas it could be $100,000.
Kauai Humane Society Executive Director Penny Cistaro said when KHS receives a report that someone is raising fighting cocks, KHS officers check on the welfare of the animals, make sure they are being kept in an appropriate manner and are in good health.
“It’s not illegal for them to own roosters,” she said.
Cistaro said people “make assumptions” of what others are doing.
“Until there is reasonable cause to investigate for a (cock) fight, that would be something that the police would be involved in,” she said.
Indeed, while cockfighting may be illegal in Hawaii, it’s not illegal to possess fighting birds here. It’s also not illegal to be caught as a spectator at a cockfight or to be caught with cockfighting tools such as gaffs, slashers and other implements.
County Prosecutor Justin Kollar said he is not aware of any prosecutions or convictions related to cockfighting in the last couple of years.
“In fact, I am not aware of any cases since I was a deputy prosecutor in 2009 and I filed a series of cases arising out of a large cockfight that took place in Keapana Valley,” he said. “All of those cases, except for one, were dismissed shortly after I left the prosecutor’s office that year.”
Kollar said cockfighting is illegal under various animal cruelty and gambling laws.
“The most common scenarios would be misdemeanors, although it is not impossible that felony charges could be raised under some circumstances,” he said.
County spokeswoman Sarah Blane said KPD does not disclose details of active or ongoing criminal investigation. She also said there have been no arrests related to cockfighting in at least two years.
But in 38 states and in D.C., it’s illegal to possess a fighting cock, and in 31 of those places it’s a felony. Being a spectator at a cockfight is illegal in 43 states and in D.C., and it’s a felony in 19 places. Possession of gaffs, slashers and other cockfighting implements is illegal in 15 states, and in nine it’s a felony.
The HSUS states law enforcement raids across the country have revealed gambling is the norm at cockfights. Thousands of dollars can exchange hands as spectators and animal owners wager large sums on the birds. The owners of birds that win the most fights in a derby may win tens of thousands of dollars of unreported income. Firearms and other weapons are common at cockfights, mainly because of the large amounts of cash present.
And then there are the drugs.
According to HSUS, law enforcement officials have documented a strong connection between cockfighting and distribution of illegal drugs. Drug enforcement agents often learn about animal fighting operations as a result of narcotics investigations.
“The presence of young children at cockfights is an especially disturbing element,” states HSUS. “Exposure to such brutality can promote insensitivity toward animal suffering and enthusiasm for violence.”
HSUS offers a $5,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a cockfighter. Call 1-877-TIP-HSUS (847-4787) for more details.
Single father, toddler coexist with noise from more than 100 roosters
The Garden Island
WAILUA — A single father moved from the serenity of the Kokee mountains to Wailua Homesteads two years ago, where he could still raise his newborn daughter in a quiet country environment.
Or so he thought — until his neighbor’s business of raising roosters multiplied and became a sonic nightmare.
“My backdoor neighbor is raising over 100 roosters,” said the Wailua resident, who asked to remain anonymous. “The noise has gotten intolerable. All I want is my family and neighbors to be able to sleep peacefully at night, without the constant crowing of over 100 roosters disturbing us 24/7.”
Life near the foot of the humbling Sleeping Giant mountain in Wailua may as well be the poster child of an idyllic retreat in the countryside. Chickens run free, the noise from barking dogs echo through valleys, birds sing on fruit trees, and horses, goats, lamb and cattle roam on ag lands.
And then there is the occasional rooster farmer.
There are no state laws that apply to excessive noise from animals, according to the state Department of Health. State noise laws only apply to electronic or mechanical noise.
However, all counties, but Kauai, have ordinances regulating noise from animals.
Oahu has an animal-nuisance ordinance that prohibits certain noises from dogs and chickens. Maui County and the Big Island have ordinances that apply to excessive barking of dogs, but nothing that addresses chickens.
“Currently, there is no animal-noise law (on Kauai) for officers to enforce, be it chickens, roosters or dogs,” said Sarah Blane, county spokeswoman.
The Wailua resident said his 2-year-old daughter can’t sleep through the night because of the noise. He tried to sound-proof his home, boarding up windows, keeping doors closed, cranking the AC and turning up the TV or the stereo; all to no avail.
“We are virtual prisoners in our own homes due to this horrendous noise,” he said.
Kauai is known for chickens and roosters roaming free, and many people blame two hurricanes — Iwa in 1982 and Iniki in 1992 — for this. The Wailua resident is OK with it.
“This is not an over-reaction to the usual chicken sounds pervasive on Kauai,” he said. “We are talking about a huge commercial cockfighting rooster farm 30 feet from my bedroom.”
And there are also health issues associated with chicken manure attracting bugs and rats, the Wailua resident said.
When he first moved to the property, his neighbor had only a few roosters and it wasn’t a problem, he said. But over the last year, the number of roosters increased to more than 100, and keeps growing.
The roosters are attached to the ground by a string measuring about a foot or two. Small plastic igloos, one for each rooster, provide protection against the elements.
His neighbor lives on a three-acre parcel, with the main home in front of the property and the birds on the opposite end of the property.
Kauai Humane Society Executive Director Penny Cistaro said she talked to the Wailua resident, and a KHS officer checked on the neighbor who is raising the roosters.
“That person has roosters on the property that are in good physical condition and they’re being properly maintained,” Cistaro said. “He has about 100 to 120 birds. It’s not illegal for him to own those birds. We don’t know what he is doing with them.”
The resident is worried about is his quality of life, which he says has gone down considerably since his neighbor boosted his rooster operations.
The windows on his daughter’s bedroom — about 30 feet away from the roosters — are covered by two-inch-thick wood boards.