SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Authorities disrupted a gruesome cockfighting operation in south Sacramento County on Wednesday involving as many as 600 birds, some of whose carcasses littered the property.
Officials characterized the bust as large in scale and symptomatic of a growing problem in the county and across the state, as California's laws against cockfighting lag behind those of neighboring states.
"It's horrifying," said Paul Bruce, a veterinary technician with the Humane Society of the United States as he displayed cockfighting spurs confiscated at the scene. "Absolutely barbaric."
The bust stemmed from an anonymous tip that a cockfight was under way about 12:30 p.m. at a residence on the 8900 block of Tokay Lane in the county's Florin neighborhood, said sheriff's spokesman Sgt. Tim Curran.
Responding deputies arrived to find 60 to 70 men, women and children running from the scene, some clutching roosters.
Roughly 50 cars were left behind and will be used to identify participants or spectators, Curran said.
Seven people were detained. Their involvement was not known Wednesday night, and no arrests had been made, Curran said.
Officials said participants in the fight, ranging from organizers to the roosters' owners to the referee, would face felony cruelty to animal charges, as well as misdemeanor cockfighting charges. If a person had prior cockfighting convictions, those charges would rise to felonies.
Under state law, spectators could face misdemeanor charges, officials said.
Authorities were expected today to continue processing the scene, a sprawling rural property cluttered with shanties covering scores of rooster cages.
An estimated 300 to 600 birds - all game fowl bred for centuries to fight - were found, and countless dead birds were scattered throughout the property, officials said.
They also found rats, dead and alive. Bruce described the conditions as "filthy," and noted that horses and sheep also were living among the squalor.
One shack housed an arena, roughly 4 hay bales by 5 in size, with telltale score lines etched in the dirt, officials said. They collected inch-long, bloody spurs; syringes likely used for administering steroids and antibiotics; derby sheets with brackets and pay/owe sheets.
Seven roosters also were found dead in the shed. Another four were injured with "gaping wounds" and taken to a local veterinary hospital, said Eric Sakach, director of the Humane Society's West Coast office.
"You could see bone through their legs," he said.
Outside the shed, authorities found a 55-gallon barrel filled with rooster carcasses that had been set afire when deputies arrived.
The evidence of a large-scale cockfighting enterprise is unmistakable, Sakach said. "You can't explain away any of this."
Sakach explained that evidence at the scene indicates the operation involved "knife-fighting" in a derby-style competition, in which each human fighter brings multiple roosters. Each rooster is matched to fight with another within 2 to 3 ounces of its weight.
Razor-sharp spurs are strapped to the rooster's left leg, replacing the bird's natural spur, a claw made of the same material as human fingernails. The natural spurs are cut down to a stub, Sakach said.
The roosters are agitated and then thrown into an arena. A fight lasts 10 to 15 minutes and ends when a rooster refuses to attack - often when one or both birds are mortally wounded. Winning purses can be tens of thousands of dollars in total, Sakach said.
Curran and Sakach said cockfighting is a growing problem in Sacramento County's rural areas. Wednesday's raid was the second in two months - a few weeks ago, another operation was dismantled in Rio Linda.
Officials suspect the activity - illegal in all states but Louisiana - is prospering in California because surrounding states have toughened up their laws, some making cockfighting a felony even for spectators.
Some counties have tried to discourage such operations by passing ordinances limiting the number of livestock, specifically roosters, one property owner can have - a move local leaders might want to consider, Sakach said.
"This is a nasty business," he said, adding: "This is not what Sacramento County wants."