The Great Chicken Escape

Until a little over two weeks ago, I had never touched a live chicken, much less a former cock-fighting rooster, so how did I end up rescuing 72 chickens from a cock-fighting ring bust? It all started at a seminar.

I went to American Pets Alive in Austin in mid-February and had the opportunity to hear one of my animal welfare heroes Kristen Auerbach speak. . . and she just happened to mention that Austin Animal Care Services had recently taken in a bunch of fighting roosters. The thing that stuck in my mind the most was Kristen saying that the roosters were very friendly, and when they took one out of his crate and into the fresh air and sunlight, he just wanted to be held and take a nap. I thought, “wow. . . how wonderful it must be for that rooster after a life of abuse and being forced to fight, now he can just enjoy the sunshine and take a nap.” I was in awe that Austin Animal Care Services took in these roosters and saved them. I toured the shelter the next day and met two of the roosters who were still available for adoption, and they seemed like mighty nice fellows.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. I was the director of SPCA of Brazoria County and our animal shelter was F.U.L.L. I get a call from Angela, an ACO for Brazoria County Sheriff’s Department, and she wants to know if we can take some of their large dogs. I didn’t want to tell her “no” because I knew the dogs’ only hope at staying alive would be if I took them, but I had no place to put them. . .

I asked her, “are you completely out of space, or can you keep them a few more days?” Her answer, “well, we have all these roosters that were confiscated from a cock-fighting ring; that’s what’s taking up all our space. . . ” I said to myself, “I have a barn. I don’t have space for big dogs, but I have space for roosters. If Austin can do it, then so can I.” Then, to my horror, I said out loud, “how many roosters do you have, I can take them all.” Angela informed me that the hens confiscated had already been re-homed and some of the roosters had died, but they had approximately 70 roosters left, but they didn’t have room for them, so they needed to go somewhere today. And this would create a little more space for the dogs which would give them a little more time. Wow. I said, “I’ll be there shortly.”

So. . . long story short. . . I showed up with a transport van and a few helpers later that day and loaded up 70 roosters and 1 hen to move to my barn for safekeeping.

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I had no plan. Only the arrogant assumption that if someone else could do it, then I damn well could do it too. I called upon Mary Moritz, practice manager at Pecan Acres Pet Care, and the convo went something like this, “Hey, Mare, ummmmm. . . I just agreed to rescue about 70 roosters from a cock-fighting ring, and I need to go pick them up in Angleton right now. Can you help me?” Always quick on the draw, Mary immediately answered, “how many people do you need and where should they meet you?” She hooked me up with Jena Welch, Sara Warrick (who is afraid of birds), and Kaley McCaffrey. We grabbed a van and a truck and headed to Angleton. This is what we found:

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I never would have expected this. These roosters were each in an individual transport box, barely big enough for them to stand up, and definitely not big enough for them to turn around. The cock-fighting world is something I knew nothing about. I couldn’t believe that these birds were still alive after being in such close confines for well over a week. We decided to transport them in these travel boxes, so we quickly started loading. The barn we were moving them to didn’t have electricity, so we wanted to make sure we got them moved and transferred into larger crates before we ran out of daylight. I was only going to take as many as we could fit in the two vehicles. . . miraculously, we were able to fit every single one, but without an inch to spare.

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Now, let’s not forget, I had never touched a rooster before, so this was a bit intimidating! Jena, Sara, and Kaley had to return to work, so Vanessa Willard and Shana Burton came over to help. Shortly thereafter ACO’s Angela and Jared also showed up to help. I started setting up wire pop-up crates and the rest of the crew started moving the angry birds from the tiny transport crates into the wire pop up crates. Try to imagine the sound of 71 pissed off chickens. It was deafening!

Vanessa shows off this beautiful bird.

Vanessa quickly became a pro rooster wrangler! The birds were so much happier once we got them into larger crates with fresh air and fresh food and water. And sure enough, they were quite nice fellows. We didn’t get it all done before nightfall, so we moved a truck to the barn door and used the lights from the truck’s headlights to keep working. Vanessa and Shana had already worked a full day caring for animals at the SPCA of Brazoria County and then came over on their own time to volunteer to help me get these birds safely settled in for the night. That’s a couple of big time animal lovers for ya! They even came back the next day to help!

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We moved each rooster into his very own wire pop-up crate. Unlike the photo above, we pulled the trays out of all the crates to allow the roosters contact with the soft dirt floor. This allowed them to behave more like normal chickens and scratch around in the dirt for their food. It’s still not a whole lot of space, but it was a vast improvement over the tiny transport boxes!

IMG_1321IMG_1329These roosters finally got some fresh air!IMG_1332Rooster Transport Boxes

Now, we get down to the hard part. What do we do with all of these roosters? Susan Willard, who also works full time in animal welfare volunteered her free time to contact rescues. One rooster has been adopted by a local family. I took a rooster and the only hen to a ranch in Lampasas. Here is a video of them right after they were released from their cages. They were SO HAPPY to roll around in the dirt and act like normal chickens again!

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Susan was successful in finding a rescue that would take thirty of the birds to live out the rest of their lives on a large animal sanctuary. They would be able to range freely and enjoy being normal chickens. No more confinement or forced fighting for these guys! So Vanessa and Shana showed up again and helped me load thirty roosters into a transport van. It only took us forty minutes and then I was headed out with a full load of cock-a-doodle-do.

Four and half hours later, I thought my eardrums were beginning to bleed, but I was there! I knew this place was fantastic before I even got to the gate. Beautiful Texas Hill County terrain dotted with farm animals and exotic animals grazing peacefully. Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation in Kendalia, Texas, is an animal-lover’s dream come true.

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I pulled up to the Animal Receiving building and went inside to introduce myself. The friendly man answering their pet information hotline got on the radio and announced, “the chicken lady is here.” Very shortly, several people showed up on utility carts. Each utility cart was loaded up with four or five birds to take them out to different locations on the property to disperse them. Once all the roosters were settled into their new homes, the crew loaded the empty crates back into the van, and I was headed back on my way. This time the ride was much quieter! I have to admit, I didn’t miss those cocks one bit!

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I had to stop and snap of photo of myself with my favorite kind of rooster–one that doesn’t crow!

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Once I got back home, I scrubbed all the crates clean, swept out the transport van, and returned everything.

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So, what’s next? If you were paying attention, I said that there were 70 roosters and 1 hen. Shortly after we moved these guys into the barn, another rooster was brought in to the shelter by animal control, so I thought, “what’s one more?” So now we have that guy too. 72 total birds: 1 was adopted, 2 went to Lampasas, and 30 went to rescue. We still have 39 roosters who need homes or rescues. Please message me at ssuazo@icloud.com if you are interested in adopting a rescued cock-fighter. They are actually super nice birds who just want a chance to be normal chickens.

And if you would like to make a donation to help with our expenses, this first rooster run cost $673.17, and we are still caring for the remaining 39 birds which will continue to incur additional expenses. If you would like to make a donation, I do not have a 501(c)(3), so you will not be able to count it as a tax-deductible charitable donation. You can send a donation me through PayPal. I will keep you all updated on the situation. . . and maybe you’ll want to go on the next rooster run with me! Honestly, I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to do this. Life is a constant roller-coaster kind of adventure for me, and I wouldn’t have things any other way!

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