- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

HARRISON, Ohio (AP) — Bob Hilsercop owns 30 gamecocks, roosters bred for their aggression in cockfighting pits. For Mr. Hilsercop, it’s just a hobby.

He no longer participates in cockfighting, which is banned in all states but Louisiana and New Mexico. But like other members of the Ohio-based United Gamefowl Breeders Association, he has sold many birds to buyers in places such as Guam, where cockfighting is legal.

Now the association, with about 15,000 members in 28 states, is in a battle to retain its tax-exempt status as a federally sanctioned agricultural organization. Animal-rights groups opposed to cockfighting are urging the government to revoke that status.

“You cannot separate the breeding from the fighting,” said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president of the Humane Society of the United States. “The purpose of raising the birds is to fight them. There is no legitimate agricultural activity occurring.”

The Internal Revenue Service says agricultural organizations include groups that cultivate land, harvest crops or aquatic resources, or raise livestock. The agency confirmed it had received the Humane Society’s complaint but didn’t say if it was investigating.

Larry Mathews, United Gamefowl’s founder and spokesman, said the group doesn’t see anything wrong with cockfighting where it’s legal.

Besides fighting, he said, the birds can be used for show, sold as brood fowl to foreign breeders, slaughtered and sold as organic poultry or Cornish game hens, or harvested for their feathers.

“We’ve been audited by the IRS as recently as last year and came through with flying colors. We are what we say we are,” said Mr. Mathews, of Silverton, Ore.

In a cockfight, two roosters wear steel blades on their legs and are placed in a pit, sometimes drugged. During a typical tournament, one-third to one-half of the birds are killed. Many suffer broken wings, punctured lungs and gouged eyes.

People who fight their birds argue that the sport is part of a long-standing American tradition. They say the birds don’t feel pain during the fight.

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