Yakima Co. Sheriff's Office defends controversial decision to kill roosters amid outcry

Editor's note: The following article delves into the sensitive and distressing topic of cockfighting and animal cruelty. 

It’s been nearly two weeks since deputies in Yakima County used service shotguns to shoot and kill more than 60 roosters

Late Wednesday, in response to a news story by FOX 13 Seattle, the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office tried to reason with the public about the method of killing used, and the overall decision to kill the roosters despite knowledge that an animal sanctuary had worked with the ATF so they could safely rehome the birds.

"Given the limitations in workforce and resources, we were faced with the difficult decision of what to do with the 64 roosters," wrote a spokesperson in a Facebook post.

The statement goes on to write that the situation, "underscores the importance of collaboration between law enforcement agencies and animal welfare organizations."

As FOX 13 Seattle has previously reported, no one from animal control or the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office ever contacted Heartwood Haven, the group that had already rehomed more than 40 roosters from the same cockfighting ring bust at a different property.

The line of reasoning from the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office: if they didn’t kill the roosters, they would have been moved and returned to fighting, despite admitting in the same statement that the raid on the property took place two weeks prior, and that the birds had not been moved.

Heartwood Haven told FOX 13 they were ready and willing to drive to the property at a moment’s notice.

"I literally would have thrown as many crates and carriers in the trailer as possible and would have been leaving here in 10 minutes," said Kate Tsyrklevich, co-founder of Heartwood Haven.

"They knew we were ready, and that we wanted them. We wanted them as soon as possible … over and done with so we could continue with the rescue and try to rehome them," Tsyrklevich said. "Basically, to try to avoid an incident like this from happening."

Rehoming cockfighting birds

Tsyrklevich’s group is among the growing number of animal sanctuaries across the U.S. that have shown roosters bred for cockfighting can be successfully rehomed. Her nonprofit started after she rescued a cock named Porter.

Porter was such a calm rooster that Tsyrklevich would routinely take him on walks through her neighborhood in the early years. That experience then turned into a mission to save animals. The Heartwood Haven Farm even grew from 2.5 acres to 40, while changing locations within the state.

The Department of Justice announced a large cockfighting ring bust in April that involved La Nuestra Familia, a Mexican-American prison gang. Tsyrklevich was brought in through contact with the ATF to rescue more than 40 roosters.

According to the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, the ATF was working on a warrant so they could seize the remaining roosters at the second location that was part of the initial raid.

During that downtime, the roosters remained on the property. While Heartwood Haven found homes for each rooster, a number were sent to individual homes and some were sent to animal sanctuaries in other states for future placement. 

"We did a lot of work to prepare for this, but really all this work was to save these animals … to show the world this is possible, to set an example for future rescues in our state," Tsyrklevich said.

What went wrong in Yakima County?

Deputies were called out to a property in Yakima County earlier this month for neglected, or unfed, horses at the location of the roosters.

When the deputies observed the roosters, they determined they would be moved if they didn’t euthanize them that day. In a statement released on social media, the deputies learned that ATF could not help.

The sanctuary that helped in the seizure of the roosters previously was never contacted. However, the Sheriff’s Office Facebook post makes note of the lack of time, and the distance of the rescue.

"We do not have an on-call veterinarian to euthanize with a needle, nor would a veterinarian put themselves in harm’s way of aggressive, angry roosters specifically bred for fighting," the statement read.

rooster euthanasia being performed by two people

Typically, roosters are euthanized via needle. This is an image from the Washington State Gambling Commission during a previous cockfighting ring bust.

According to documents obtained by FOX 13 Seattle, deputies described that the "owner" of the birds didn’t consider the birds as his. It appears the person who raised the birds was arrested in last month’s major Department of Justice bust which involved cockfighting, copious amounts of drugs and guns. However, since the people living on the property were feeding the roosters, they were considered the owners. 

While a warrant wasn’t issued, the "owner" voluntarily agreed to surrender every rooster on the property that appeared to be altered for cockfighting.

A narrative written by one of the Yakima County deputies explained how they told the man they "have the ability to work with rescues, but due to time constraints, may be forced to humanely euthanize the birds."

It was ultimately decided to shoot and kill the birds with a shotgun. The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office argued they could have also strangled or slit the birds’ throats as those were also legal methods.


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