"Roosters are Born Fighters"

Editor's note: On July 1, New Mexico will become the 49th state to ban cockfighting, leaving Louisiana as the lone holdout. Legally, states have made a clear distinction between cockfighting and dog fighting and outdoors pursuits such as "fishing, hunting, falconry, taking and trapping," in the language of the New Mexico bill. But some cockfighting proponents opposed the ban on the grounds that it posed a potential threat to hunters' rights.

"It's very far-fetched to use the slippery slope argument in this case," counters Lisa Jennings, the executive director of Albuquerque-based Animal Protection Voters, which supported the ban. "Even though our organization doesn't support hunting per se, some people could make the argument that, hey, I hunt for food and there's some benefit to me. But when you look at cockfighting or dog fighting, there's no overall benefit to society. I grew up in a hunting family myself, and I don't know anyone who I grew up with who hunts who would tolerate intentional animal fighting."

The debate made us curious, so on the eve of the ban, this site asked a writer in Albuquerque to learn what he could about cockfighting in the region. The result is the story you see here. Because ESPNOutdoors.com readers can be quite discerning on matters of humans' relationship with animals, we expect you'll have something to say about this topic. We invite your comments via the ESPN Conversation feature at the bottom of this and every news story on this site. — The Editors

My friend called me up on a dull Memorial Day weekend in Albuquerque:

"Want to go to Mexico for some cockfighting?"

Why not? I shoved some clothes in a bag and Judith picked me up for a family weekend. She, her kids — Carlos and Carlita — and I drove for six hours to the border town of Douglas, Ariz., where we waited at a McDonald's for her uncle, Roberto, to call. He gave us directions on where to meet him when we crossed the border.

"He's not a federal agent, right?" Roberto kept asking Judith in Spanish over the phone. We laughed at the idea, but many people in the southwest are getting nervous. On July 1, cockfighting will be prohibited throughout New Mexico, the 49th state to ban the activity (Louisiana, that throwback, holds out).

No doubt, the state's prohibition on the millennia-old pastime won't end it any more than it has in places like Arkansas, which banned cockfighting in 1879 and where more than 60 people were arrested May 19 in a raid near the Oklahoma border. The ban may even make the sport more popular and shroud it further in mystery, but for now many of the established cockfighting venues will shutter, and relocate away from the eyes of the police.

Uncle Roberto is a lifelong cocker. For almost 40 years he has bred, raised and fought roosters. During the work week, he lives in a small trailer with his daughter on the American side of the border. They both work in Arizona at Euro Fresh, as quality control inspectors of cucumbers and beef tomatoes. On the weekend, they live in Agua Prieta, Mexico, with Roberto's wife, brother in-law's family, his son and daughter in-law, their four kids, and about 90 chickens.

Judith drove us across the border into Agua Prieta, in the northern territory of Sonora. She pulled up to a pharmacy. Roberto, a prolific smoker, came out of the store with a carton of Marlboros and we followed him to his house.

We pulled into his driveway around 9 p.m. and Roberto showed me around. There was the front house where his brother in-law, Hector, lived with his wife. In the back was his house where everyone else stayed. Encircling compound walls were rows of wire cages with sleeping hens, roosters and chicks of myriad varieties and sizes. He had a farm of 200 to 300 roosters that he sold to his son, Roberto Jr., who has taken up the family mantle as cocker. Uncle Roberto said he was now retired and just kept a few around his house with Hector and his daughter, Diana.

"Some people think we're criminals," Roberto said. "But they don't know how well we treat them."

Story continues on Page Two