Photo By: Karen Davis
By Pattrice Jones
It's time consuming but not particularly difficult, if you understand roosters. Perhaps because of their evolutionary role as sentries and guardians of the flock, roosters tend to be highly sensitive and responsive to danger. With few exceptions, roosters fight because they are afraid - not because they are naturally aggressive. In the wild, male jungle fowl (the wild ancestors of chickens) squabble over pecking order and territory but do not injure one another seriously. The same is true of feral roosters and the roosters here at our sanctuary. Roosters will, however, fight to the death to protect the flock from a predator.
Cockfighting perverts this natural and honorable behavior of the rooster into a parody of human masculinity. Roosters who have been "trained" as fighting cocks co-operate because they have been so traumatized that they are terrified, seeing every other bird as a potentially deadly predator. We rehabilitate fighting cocks by teaching them that they don't have to be afraid of other birds, and that not all human beings are terrorists like the ones who used fear and frustration to trick them into fighting each other. We use the same principles that a therapist might use in helping a person to overcome a phobia. We use the same behavioral principles that a person might use to stop smoking.
A former fighting cock spends most of his first few weeks with us in a large cage, from within which he can see and interact with - but not hurt or be hurt by - the other birds. The cage is portable, so that he can be outside in the shade during the day and then sleep in the coop with the other birds at night. He has his own food and water inside the cage. We also sprinkle food all around the cage, which encourages the hens and younger roosters to gather around and socialize with him as they eat. He and the older roosters may posture or even try to fly at one another but are not able to fight.
Several times a day, we take him out of the cage and hold him close until his heart rate is calm. Then we set him down and allow him to roam freely. As long as he gets along with the other birds in a non-aggressive manner, he is rewarded by continued freedom. But if he starts a fight, he is scooped up and put back in the cage. Gradually, the amount of time he is able to be free without starting a fight gets longer and longer until we feel it is safe to allow him to be with the other birds without supervision.
We feel awkward about doing any kind of behavioral training with an animal over whom we have total control but, given that the alternative to coming to our sanctuary is usually euthanasia, we feel it is the right thing to do in this instance. We are, after all, just undoing the damage that other people have done to these birds. Remember, the fighting cock fights only because he is traumatized and terrified. Empathy tells us that these birds are very relieved to learn how not to be so afraid. Our observation of their subsequent behavior tells us that they are very happy to be able to have normal relations with the other birds.
--Pattrice Jones is a codirector of the Eastern Shore Sanctuary & Education Center (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: www.bravebirds.org) and a Consultant & Internet Researcher for United Poultry Concerns. This slightly edited article, reprinted with kind permission, is a section from "Feminist Fusion: The Pattrice Jones Interview (Pt 1)" by Claudette Vaughan, Vegan Voice, No. 18, June-August 2004. Correspondence: Vegan Voice, PO Box 30, Nimbin NSW 2480 Australia. Email: Veganvoice@lis.net.au. Website: http://veganic.net.