Prison term sends strong message to cockfight sponsors
A man has been sentenced to federal prison after being caught at Honolulu Airport trying to smuggle cockfighting spurs into the country.
A two-month federal prison term for a Louisiana man arrested at Honolulu Airport for trying to smuggle cockfighting spurs into the country should send a strong message to enthusiasts of the blood sport. The offense was made a felony by a law enacted by Congress last year, and U.S. Attorney Ed Kubo has made clear that he will not hesitate to enforce it.
The sharp spurs, or gaffs, resembling ice picks, are attached to gamecocks' legs so cockfights can end in a quick death to avoid drawn-out fights that would be boring to spectators. Their possession is legal in Louisiana but is banned by a Honolulu ordinance. A Louisiana law that went into effect this month made it the 50th state where cockfighting itself is illegal.
Joseph Marty Toralba, 39, bought the 263 gaffs in the Philippines for $125 and tried to hide them within portable gas stoves in his checked luggage but they were discovered by customs officials in February. A self-employed landscaper in Colfax, La., Toralba admitted buying them to equip his 650 fighting cocks at his farm and at a friend's property.
The new law calls for a prison term of up to three years, and Toralba could have been sentenced to incarceration of six months, according to his pre-sentence report. Toralba was cooperative with officials and expressed remorse.
Pamela Burns, president of the Hawaiian Humane Society, called the prosecution "a landmark case" demonstrating "the tool needed to bring an end to this cruel and vicious blood sport."
Kubo said he hopes the case "will send a clear message to Hawaii's animal fighting community that the times have changed and the community will no longer stand for these illegal and heinous activities."
However, more needs to be done. While the federal law makes interstate or foreign transportation of roosters for fighting purposes or of implements used in cockfights a felony, Hawaii remains among only 15 states where cockfighting is a mere misdemeanor. The Legislature needs to correct that trivializing of the cruel sport.
Gamecocks that survive a cockfight often don't recover from injuries that include punctured lungs, broken bones and eyes pierced by gaffs. Enthusiasts have claimed it is a cultural tradition that is integral to Hawaii's "diverse ethnicities," although it was declared illegal in 1884 under the reign of King Kalakaua.
As Kubo noted, where cockfighting occurs, gambling is an integral element and "organized crime is not far behind." He has said that he expects to work with police and other agencies to combat the activity in Hawaii. Legislators should do their part to make that effort successful.