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
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.
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.
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.
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.