Last weekend I drove up to Vermont with a truck full of roosters. The roosters had been confiscated from an illegal cockfighting ring, and Vermont is where Eastern Shore Sanctuary and Education Center is now. Eastern Shore remains the one and only place in the entire continent, perhaps the entire world, that rehabilitates former fighters.
On the way up I listened to some Animal Voices podcasts. I love that radio show! I have gotten very behind on the shows, so I had a lot of catching up to do. The last one I listened to before I arrived was on cockfighting.
I was bemused to hear the hosts and the guests talking about the fact that they didn’t know of anyone who rehabilitated the former fighters. I was itching to call them, but of course it was a 4 month old radio show.
It was so nice to see the new location for Eastern Shore Sanctuary. All the various residents seemed comfortable and happy. While I was wandering around taking pictures, feeling that special peace and well-being I get at sanctuaries, I was startled to see a large bunny hop out from underneath some floppy plants. I recognized him from some pictures posted on the ES blog a month or so ago that was taken while he was hanging out with some kittens. That seems to sum up the life at ES. Kittens, a bunny, ducks, guineas, chickens, seagulls…not quite what anyone ever expects, I bet.
On this visit, though, I was primarily interested in the fighting roosters.
I have read the sanctuary’s information on the rooster rehabilitation process. I’ve seen the end results, I’ve heard via email some of the in between stages. I was very interested to see the next morning the very earliest stage. The newly rescued fighters get put in the yard in fairly cages. Dispersed. They have a chance to see the interactions of the other chickens. If they display aggressive behavior, they can’t hurt anyone, and they can retreat to break the interaction if they choose.
It is just one week later, and Miriam told me on Friday that she thought they’d be ready by today to be given their first chance to mingle in the yard, supervised. At the first fight, they’ll be put back in their cage. This will go on for however long it takes for them to learn. Their lessons are two fold: they learn that they don’t have to fight, and they learn that they have to not fight to get full run of the yard.
I think Miriam said that it typically takes 4-6 weeks for the rehabilitation process. That’s not bad, considering what is done to the roosters. The drugs, the abuse, often the removal of their spurs and of their combs (painful processes, I’m sure).
I watched some former fighters wandering in the flock, from an earlier rescue. I had to have Miriam point them out because they acted no different from the others. We observed the newly rescued fighters, and noticed that there were some who didn’t have anyone bothering them, and others who were in standoffs. Miriam thinks that the ones who weren’t being bothered are the ones who made it clear, somehow, that they weren’t interested in fighting. The others must have issued a challenge that we didn’t see, and drew roosters from the flock over.
I shot a short video of one of those challenging interactions. The rooster on the outside alternates between pecking for food, and acting out the part of the challenging/challenged rooster. The rooster on the inside, one of the newly rescued, stares at the other rooster the whole time. Waiting for a challenge. But to my eyes, I can almost see him thinking, confused, “does he want to look for food? Or does he want to fight?” He doesn’t take his eyes off the other rooster, but he also doesn’t seem all that tense. Like it is for show, it is all he knows right now. But he’s watching, and he’s learning.
They give me such hope.
Thank you pattrice, and Miriam, and Aram. Thanks for Eastern Shore, and thanks for doing what so many people told you was impossible.