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Cockfighting Fans Lose A Venue

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling left Louisiana and New Mexico as the only states where cockfighting is legal, and advocates of the blood sport are bracing for further legal attacks from animal rights activists.

The court declined to hear an appeal that sought to overturn a ban on cockfighting in Oklahoma, passed by the state's voters in 2002. With Oklahoma out of the picture, cockfighters in Louisiana and New Mexico said they expected a new push from animal rights activists to have anti-cockfighting laws passed in those states' legislatures.

Cockfighting remains popular in many rural areas, particularly in the South. Supporters describe it as a family-friendly tradition in which children grow up learning how to breed, care for and match roosters against one another in fights.

"We can't afford a million-dollar race horse or a million-dollar NASCAR car," said 68-year-old Ray Alexander, who raises roosters in Lincoln, Miss. "We can afford a chicken, and we can go out and be competitive with that chicken."

Animal activists see things differently, contending the activity is inhumane. Roosters -- fitted with razor-like spurs on their claws -- tear one another to pieces inside a ring, known as a "pit." Many of the fights end with one of the birds dead and the other crippled.

"There's just no good reason, in this day and age, to be engaged in this activity," Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said. "There's no good reason for any jurisdiction to allow it."

Larry Mathews, spokesman for the United Gamefowl Breeders Association, is not surprised by activists' reaction.

"We would expect them to continue to fight us, as we will continue to fight for ourselves," he said.

Monday's ruling was the latest in a string of legal losses for cockfighters. In 2002, President Bush signed legislation making it a federal crime to move such fowl across state lines to engage in fights. The Oklahoma Supreme Court upheld the state's ban earlier this year, prompting the appeal to the federal Supreme Court. Justices rejected it without comment.

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, actress Rue McClanahan joined Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez on Monday urging legislators to ban cockfighting. Other celebrities who have joined the state's anti-cockfighting effort include actress Pamela Anderson.

"The sentiment is all there; we just need to enact the will of people," said Dan Mathews, a vice president with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Proposals to ban cockfighting have repeatedly died in the New Mexico Legislature, as opponents argued that it is a money maker and an important part of the state's agricultural community. Efforts also have stalled in Louisiana, where cockfighting is considered part of rural Cajun culture.

But, the Humane Society promised a tough fight in both states in upcoming legislative sessions. Pacelle was optimistic that a ban could pass in New Mexico, where the state House approved one last year. The measure stalled in the Senate.

"Louisiana is viewed by the cockfighting lobby as their last bastion," Pacelle said.

Supporters said Louisiana could benefit from that feeling -- with an influx of Oklahoma cockfighters moving their operations to the Bayou State. The industry, some say, is worth billions nationwide, as breeders and fighters buy chicken feed, cement and other supplies for coops and fighting pits.

"If they're moving to Louisiana because they want a cockfighting refuge, they're going to have a very short stay," Pacelle said. "I'd advise them not to unpack their bags."

By Doug Simpson