The Journey of 27 Roosters
Lori Hilton Brizius
© Copyright 2020 by Lori Hilton Brizius
Photo by Arib Neko on Unsplash
It was another scorching hot day in Texas. I ran an outdoor shelter which housed hundreds of dogs and cats, with the occasional wild animal like raccoons, possum, foxes and turkey vultures. Farm animals were not unusual but, we tried to find them alternative housing (land) quickly as our kennels were not equipped for them.
Once, we even had a young, male tiger brought to us by Border Patrol agents after they had apprehended some smugglers who were crossing the border. Luckily, this magnificent animal was sent to a big cat rescue in North Texas.
We worked closely with many agencies to ensure the safety and protection of all animals including the Health department, Sheriff’s Department, animal control, veterinarians and police. There were several times when we would take dogs who were involved in “pit bull” fighting and keep them safe for the Sheriff’s Department until a court date but, nothing prepared me for the next round of victims.
On this particular day in May, I received a call from one of our investigators that the Sheriff’s Department, in conjunction with the police, were going to be conducting a “raid” on a known drug house that was also a location for dog fighting and “cock-fighting.” Since both these acts were still legal in Mexico it wasn’t unusual to see this kind of thing in a border town like ours. I was told they would most likely be bringing in several dogs and a “few” roosters, and that the roosters needed to be immediately separated.
We started to prepare.
My crew worked tirelessly in the hot Texas sun. We had several “stand alone” kennels and cleared out some of the wildlife cages in preparation. As the animal control trucks started to roll in, I braced myself for the inevitable shock of the condition of the animals.
Most of the dogs were in pretty good shape and were given immediate treatment for minor wounds – then came the roosters. There weren’t “a few” as stated...no. Each rooster was put into an individual cage waiting to be assessed and then next 2 trucks came in with more.
By the time we had finished counting, it looked like we had 38 roosters but, only about 12 cages ready. It was a mad dash to set up extra cages, dishes, and find locations to house them. The roosters were sitting in the hot sun so, it was imperative that we act fast.
We had to find shaded areas and quiet spots away from the dogs. These poor feathered friends had already experienced enough trauma, therefore, our goal was to ensure that their shelter stay was as stress-free as possible.
After a great deal of teamwork, we managed to unload the birds and start the process of medical assessment. It was with great sadness that we were forced to humanely euthanize 11 of the poor roosters due to extensive injuries from their life of torture. A few of them still had the metal spurs or “gaffs” attached to their legs which were used to slice open their opponent.
So, now the lives of 27 roosters were in our hands.
As I pondered the future of these poor birds many people came forward to give me advice.
“Euthanize them all.” said someone. “They can’t function in a normal life. They’re just birds.”
“Give them to a rancher.” was another comment. “Let them fight for their space,”another added, “just kill them and give away the meat. It will benefit someone who’s less fortunate.”
I was shocked by the comments, and couldn’t think of any creature less fortunate than these at this particular moment but, I was also at a loss as to what to do with 27 cock-fighting roosters.
I began looking into rescues and sanctuaries across the state. Surely someone could help!
We didn't think it was fair to subject these beautiful souls to anymore sadness or fear after all they had been through. They were worth saving. As I looked at the 27 roosters in their cages--scared, lonely, some with scars or healing scabs, some with wild eyes - I knew their terrible journey could not end here.
Within a couple of days, I received a call from another animal advocate who gave us information about a wildlife rescue that sometimes took farm animals. I was hopeful and optimistic when I made the call, after all, it's not every day a rescue hears " hey, I've got 27 cock-fighting roosters that want to kill each other. Can you take them?"
When I explained the situation to the rescue they simply responded with, " sure, we can take them. When canyou be here?" My heart overflowed with joy! We made preparations to leave in 2 days.
Our only means of transport for the roosters was a trailer that could hold the cages being pulled behind a small truck the shelter provided. My son and I would make the 5 hour trip but, how do we minimize stress and how do we keep the roosters from trying to peck at each other? We did not have the luxury of enclosed keri-kennels - all the roosters were in open metal cages.
It was decided that cardboard barriers would be placed between each cage and tarps would cover the precious cargo to minimize wind and stress. As we tied everything down and secured the birds (all of whom looked completely defeated), I saw my son at the end of the trailer talking to one of the roosters saying, " it's going to be okay, little buddy. No one is going to hurt you again." I smiled and knew he was right.
As we travelled the long Texas highways, we realized that it was mandatory to make frequent stops to check on the roosters. The wind was shifting the barriers between the cages and it was imperative that we not allow contact between the birds. We stopped, readjusted, refilled water and moved on. At one point, I panicked when I noticed one rooster lying quietly, not moving, and I thought he had passed away. As I looked closer, he opened his eyes, just a bit, and I felt tears come as I realized that he was just relieved and at peace...maybe for the first time in his short life.
We approached a Border Patrol check point and I started to feel uneasy. What if they delayed our transport? What if they confiscated the roosters? I wasn't sure what to expect but, I had prepared myself with the paperwork and documentation from the police department. We pulled up and it was obvious that the Border Patrol canines were curious about our cargo.
The agent asked a few questions about us and then asked, " what do you have on the trailer?" With the utmost confidence I replied, " 27 cock-fighting roosters, Sir...on their way to freedom."
He hesitated, then looked under the tarp. The agent looked moved by the sad little creatures quietly waiting to pass. He came back to the window and just nodded his head and said," go ahead." Our freedom ride continued!
When we arrived at our destination, I was overwhelmed by the array of animals I saw roaming freely on the grounds. Longhorns, donkeys, geese, rabbits, chickens and more! The rescue was located in the Hill Country on approximately 500 acres of land. It is not open to the public so, the animals can live in peace.
We were greeted by a manager and a caretaker who were anxious to help our little roosters.They gave us a synopsis of how the transition would work and then gave us a tour of the facility. We saw bears, monkeys, and even lions. They were preparing some foxes who had come to the rescue injured for release back to the wild. I knew our birds were in good hands.
It took a long time to unload each individual rooster but, we said our goodbyes to each and every one of them. Each of our 27 roosters would be able to rest for the next couple of days and would then be evaluated by a veterinarian. After that, the healthy ones would be tagged and taken to separate areas of the rescue, acres apart from each other. These folks were well-versed in how to modify the behavior of the roosters by allowing them to free roam in areas away from other birds until the desire to fight would eventually dissipate. This was done in a slow process under a lot of supervision so, I was extremely grateful.
As I stood there talking to the staff, I saw a beautiful, colorful rooster approach with a proud, happy gait. The manager said, " this was another cock-fighting rooster that arrived near death from El Paso. It's been able to flourish here for months now and he has become quite sociable. He doesn't venture too close to the larger animals but, he has become quite friendly with humans." The nature of animals to forgive warmed my heart.
Months later, the rescue sent me photos of some of the roosters and let me know how they were progressing. They were beautiful, they were happy, and their eyes told a new story.
May 2010, 27 roosters ended a journey of pain, began a road to
recovery and found love and compassion on their journey to freedom.
They suffer no more.