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Cockfighting in the Dominican Republic
Preparation
Cockfighting can be a very lucrative endeavor, with men spending thousands upon thousands of pesos or dollars on nurturing a prize bird for a fight. Training begins at a very early stage with the owner sparing no expense to guarantee his bird the best chance to be a winner. At times, these birds are treated even better than family members, receiving better care and more attention.

Preparation for a fight begins close to two years before the bird ever steps into the ring. Many fighting birds are hatched from hens with a record of mothering good fighting birds. From birth they are fed a diet of special grains, vitamins and antibiotics. When the bird is fight-ready, professional groomers trim its feathers, the underbelly is shaved and its combs and wattles are surgically removed. Groomers also cut the birds' spurs with a sharp knife before fitting them with spikes. The new spurs can be metal and are used to inflict more pain, which could lead to a bird's death in an even quicker fashion. The spikes are affixed with a few drops of hot wax, and then taped. The owners smooth away any excess wax with wet fingertips, and make sure that the spikes are straight. Before a fight, a licensed fowl inspector uses an acid rinse that changes color when illegal substances are present on the birds' skin. This rinse is necessary in order to detect foreign or illegal substances that could give one fowl an advantage over another. Sometimes owners rub tobacco or other chemicals on the roosters, to make the bird fight harder or to affect the opponent bird.

The atmosphere at a gallera, Spanish for the fighting ring, is what's most interesting. Moments before the fight begins there is silence, with onlookers quieting to see the two "opponents". The birds are brought into the circle. Depending on the gallera you are at, the fighting ring could be a dirt floor or an artificial grass floor, as is the case at Santo Domingo’s Coliseo Gallistico. The Coliseo is a modern building fit for human fights, but its simplicity is a testament to the importance of the sport among some in this society.

Once the matches are set, the fowl handlers drop the two birds into the center of the circle and the fight begins. And this is where the madness starts. This crucial moment is where proponents feel a surge of crude energy and adrenaline and where opponents cringe at the thought of another bird being killed.

The roosters raise their hackles, then peck and circle each other. As they slowly dance around the circle pecking and inflicting damage on each other, hordes of men shout as loud as they can, betting on the bird of their choice. Money changes hands rapidly and one would think they were on the trading floor on Wall Street and not a cock fight in the DR. Bets range from RD$500 to as much as one is willing to take on. In smaller and less organized cockfights, the bets are much smaller. In many cases the bets are never recorded, but are honored by a special understanding between the betters. In these cases a man's honor and ability to live up to his bet is worth his weight in gold.
As the fight continues, the brutality becomes more evident. Slowly one of the birds begins to succumb to the slow painful pecks. Sensing close victory, the winning bird continues to pounce as blood begins to squirt and drip out. Feathers are flying and the defeated bird is now one step closer to death.

Supporting cockfighting
There are many arguments that defend the viability and necessity of cockfighting. Among the leading arguments by proponents is that above anything else cockfighting is a cultural phenomenon that must be respected as part of the overall Dominican cultural landscape. Many supporters believe that just as bullfighting is popular in Spain, Colombia or Argentina, cockfighting is a tradition on which many virtues and values are hinged on and thus must be respected, protected and conserved. Supporters will also argue about the historical importance of the rooster, considering that the sport has been around for too long to be abolished. Continued arguments put forward the idea that cockfighting is a money generator which creates and circulates funds for local farmers and businesses. Some say that there are as many as 3,000 galleras in the DR with as many as 24,000 men gaining employment from the sport. Proponents say that cockfighting produces millions of dollars in formal and informal revenues and it would be an economic and financial blow to surrounding communities if the sport were abolished. Finally, among the most enduring arguments is the one that indicates that roosters are by nature, aggressive animals that will inherently fight at the sight of another rooster, and conventional wisdom would then indicate that if they are already doing it, then how and why stop them from doing so? Finally, some argue that roosters are brainless animals and that this in itself is a justification to allow them to fight to the death.

Arguments against
For every argument that exists in favor of cockfighting, there are just as many condemning the blood sport and that discount all supportive arguments. Opponents are quick to argue that cockfight, and any blood sport in general, is cruel to animals and should therefore not be practiced. Another viable argument states that as the highest form of intelligence on this planet, we must respect the lives of other animals and that it is our responsibility not to partake in cruelty to animals. Adding to this is the argument that profiting from the cruelty, death or suffering of another animal is unfair and cruel. Opponents also argue that while roosters are hostile, this only occurs in a territorial context and they are not inherently aggressive towards other roosters. One final argument is that although cockfighting is a profitable endeavor, it is not as profitable as some would make it seem and that the abolition of the sport would not be as devastating to the economies of local communities as has been argued.

Interestingly enough, a survey by Mark Feierstein, vice president of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner showed that 52% of Dominicans disapprove of cockfighting as a sport, including 60% of women and 62% of the affluent, while 40% of Dominicans firmly disapprove of the sport. Peripheral arguments include that unlike other violent sports, cockfighting is a fight to the death and has no rules, and for this reason the sport should be banned.

The future
There a myriad of personal views points that support and oppose this controversial sport, but it seems that cockfighting won't be banned any time soon. Part of cockfighting's strength is its support base, garnering the participation of wealthy and famous Dominicans both in the country and abroad. Many big name politicians are also in favor of the sport. Adding to this is the fact that much of the electorate are fans of the sport, any administration would unlikely alienate that voter base by outlawing a sport that they hold dear. Recently, Sports Minister Felipe Payano assured the DR's cockfighting sector that the government would continue to support the sport. Payano took the time to highlight President Leonel Fernandez's efforts to strengthen the cockfighting sector in the DR.

Despite being illegal and looked down upon in the US and Europe, cockfighting is legal and considered part of the DR’s cultural heritage, but how long will this fact hold true? Some believe that support for this sport will decline as a product of time and as Dominicans become more educated on the concept of animal rights. As was highlighted in this article there is a growing number of Dominicans who don't support cockfighting, yet it will take time for those voices to shout in unison against the sport. Until then the conversation will rage on as to whether or not to allow cockfighting, with both sides citing the pros and cons. One thing is for sure is that the conversation will not take place at the Coliseo Gallistico.
 
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