7 min read

Roosters Saved From Cockfighting Now Nap In Their Rescuers' Arms

In mid-February, police in Travis County, Texas, got a call about an active cockfight.

At the scene, they found 16 dead roosters and more than two dozen who were still alive, covered in blood and lacerations, with no idea how much their lives were about to change.

Austin Animal Center

The roosters were brought to the Austin Animal Center, the city-run shelter.

Several were so badly injured they had to be euthanized. Twenty-six others, who were in rough but better shape, got medical treatment, as well as hope, perhaps for the very first time.

"We're going to try to save every one of these roosters and find them loving, permanent homes," says Kristen Auerbach, the shelter's deputy chief of animal services.

Austin Animal Center

For the last few weeks, the roosters have been getting veterinary care. They've also been given lots of positive human interactions.

(And possibly, some confusing ones, too - like when Randy was put into a harness and walked through the shelter lobby.)

It's a change since the roosters were likely kept isolated when they were used for fighting. Auerbach thinks the birds are beginning to realize that "we are helping them and they are safe."

One by one, they've gotten to go outside. To feel the sun on their feathers.

Out in the shelter yard, they've acted like the individuals they are.

Some fall right asleep in their caretakers' arms.

Austin Animal Center

Another "started happily clucking, and one of them acted quite silly, soliciting petting from the people gathered around. I swear he gave us a beaky grin," says Auerbach, whose own assumptions and stereotypes about roosters have been knocked down while tending to these birds.

"I had all these notions of what a fighting rooster would be like. That they'd be aggressive with people and always waiting to fight and you couldn't handle them," she says. "I couldn't have been more wrong."

Austin Animal Center

Maybe, Auerbach hopes, these roosters will help change more minds about what roosters are like, and what they deserve.

Thanks in part to the well-publicized outcomes for Michael Vick's former fighting dogs, many people are now onboard with the idea that dogs rescued from fighting can be individually evaluated, rehabilitated and safely adopted into homes.

For roosters to get this sort of treatment is not unprecedented, either.

Cockfighting is illegal in all 50 states, but is still depressingly common - and more than a decade ago, the Wall Street Journal documented other rare but successful cases of birds rescued from this horror, who were given rehabilitation and allowed to live.

A Vermont sanctuary called VINE, specializing in rehabbing former cockfighting birds, is trying to get folks familiar with how rooster rehabilitation works, and what needs to be done for that to be more common. (The short version: more resources, more compassion, and more education.)

But even in Austin - the country's largest no-kill community - there have been plenty of ugly, predictable jokes about these roosters being made into soup.

Austin Animal Center

Austin Animal Center

The aim is that these roosters will do well - and serve as a model for the next group. Twenty-six roosters who were born into cruelty, getting a beautiful second chance and, hopefully, paving the way for others.

"It's our goal not just to save these roosters, but to show other communities it can be done," says Auerbach.

Austin Animal Center

Austin Animal Center

The roosters are on the mend. Soon, it's expected, they will go up for adoption.

About a dozen families have already come forward, promising to give the birds love and sunshine, patience and training, for the rest of their lives.

Auerbach tears up, thinking about their bright futures.

"These birds are just like all creatures. They want to live," she says. "I can't wait for the day the roosters can start their new lives."