The Eastern Shore Sanctuary was the first to develop a method of rehabilitating roosters used in cockfighting. Former fighters live in harmony with other birds — including other roosters — within the flocks at the sanctuary.
Former fighter with flock
When Pietro (above) arrived at the sanctuary, he was hard to hold because he would struggle so hard to attack any bird — hen or rooster — he saw. Only after some days of spending time in the yards while being held and soothed was he able to see or hear other birds without trying to attack them. Even so, his little heart beat so rapidly with fear whenever another bird came near. He was terrified. Having been fought, with shaved feathers and steel blades attached to his talons, he believed that the only recipe for survival was to attack instantly and incessantly. Having been doped with methamphetamines and testosterone, his endrocrine system responded excessively to any alarm. Having been raised in isolation, he’d never had the chance to learn the social signals by which roosters naturally resolve their conflicts in healthy flocks.
Once he had been soothed sufficiently to tolerate the sight and sound of other birds, Pietro was ready for the next stage of our rehab program, which allows the former fighter to observe and begin to participate in the life of the flock from within the safety of a cage that protects him from attacking or being attacked by other birds. This allowed him to see birds living peacefully with one another and to learn the social skills that make that possible. Several times each day, he was allowed to mingle with the others for as long as he could do so without starting a fight. Over time, the amount of time he could go before starting trouble lengthened until, finally, he could be trusted to socialize freely, which he did until the end of his life.
Pietro was among the first three fighting roosters we rehabilitated, back in 2001. In the years since, we’ve rehabbed many more roosters. Follow the links at the bottom of this page to read about Julio, Saturn, and other roosters while also learning more about cockfighting and our methods of rehabilitation.
Former fighters roosting together in the trees on a misty morning
The process is easy, but time intensive, and therefore we are able to accept only a small number of roosters at a time. Luckily, the publicity we have received — including a front page story in the Wall Street Journal — has helped us to spread the word that these birds are not incorrigible. Slowly but surely, more and more local authorities are trying to place, rather than immediately kill, roosters confiscated from cockfighters and the breeders who serve them.
This has led to a crisis of sorts, as very few sanctuaries are willing to accept former fighters and all of us are limited by both space and the need to maintain a healthy gender ratio within our flocks. (It’s a myth that roosters cannot live together but it is useful to maintain a hen to rooster ratio of at least 3:1 so that the hens are not troubled by the attentions of the roosters and the roosters don’t feel that they must compete for hen attention.)
Our mid-2009 move to a larger property will allow us to increase the number of roosters we are able to welcome. We’re also working with the International Association for Animal Trauma and Recovery to publish our methods in the hope that more sanctuaries will adopt them. You can help support this important work by donating to the sanctuary, by encouraging other sanctuaries to accept former fighting roosters, and by speaking up for the birds if you hear of a local police action in which fighting roosters were confiscated.
- Rooster Rehabilitation: An Ecofeminist Project — 2006 Abolitionist Online article provides an overview of cockfighting, outlines our method of rooster rehab, and shows how the gendered exploitation of fighting roosters (and egg-laying hens) reflects and supports sexism among people
- Rooster Rehabilitation: An Ecofeminist Project (pdf) — same text, in handy pdf format for printing and sharing
- When Bad Chickens Come Home to Roost (pdf) — 2005 Wall Street Journal article provides basic information about cockfighting, offers an overview of our methods, and describes the reporter’s visit to our sanctuary to see the former fighters for himself
- Fighting Bird Rehabilitation (video) — 2009 video shows the rescue and transport of a small group of birds to the sanctuary
- Crossing the Avian-Mammalian Line — 2004 Satya Magazine article introduces several of the roosters who have lived at the sanctuary and shows myths about roosters to be a function of sexism
- Can “Fighting” Roosters be Rehabilitated? — 2004 Poultry Press article provides a basic outline of our method of rooster rehab