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Cockfighting to lose last refuge: Louisiana

BATON ROUGE, La. — Gory and bucolic all at once, cockfights have drawn crowds to small-time pits and full-blown arenas in towns around Louisiana for generations. By Friday, they'll be against the law. Everywhere.

That day, Louisiana will become the last state to outlaw the rooster fights, a move that cockfighting enthusiasts say marks the end of a rich rural tradition.

”The culture, the custom of the Cajun people, it's gone,“ said Chris Daughdrill, who breeds fighting roosters in Loranger, a community 50 miles north of New Orleans. ”It's another one of the rights that big government has taken away from the people.“

Maybe so, but supporters and opponents agree that the blood sport won't be wiped out entirely. Like bootlegging, cockfights will continue on the sly in remote areas, and getting caught could mean fines or even prison.

”They're still going to fight, they're still going to fight for years to come,“ said Elizabeth Barras, who with husband Dale ran a cockfighting pit in St. Martin Parish for 14 years. ”They've still got cockfighting in every state. They just hide it from the law.“

The fights between specially trained roosters are held in large arenas or in back yards. The birds are fitted with sharp metal blades or curved spikes on their legs, and instinctively attack each other. A match can last more than an hour, with one or both animals dead or maimed.

In banning the fights, Louisiana relented after years of pressure from the Humane Society of the United States and other animal-rights groups. For those willing to travel, cockfighting remains legal on American soil in Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Guam and is popular in Mexico, the Philippines and other foreign countries.

High-profile defenders of cockfighting in Louisiana began softening their stance on the fights after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, seeking to improve the state's backwards reputation.

Then-Gov. Kathleen Blanco — a native of Cajun country, where the fights have deep roots — signed the ban last year, closing a loophole in state law that excluded chickens from animal cruelty laws. First-time offenders caught participating in cockfights will face maximum $1,000 fines and six-month jail sentences.

It has been illegal since last year to gamble on cockfights — a separate law passed last year as a precursor to the total ban.