All fowled up

It seems no one cares about cockfighting in East Dallas

For Lisa McAnally, last Christmas Day was hardly the peaceful experience most people reasonably expect from the holiday.

On that morning, and well into the afternoon, the 23-year-old art history graduate student and her boyfriend sat on McAnally's backyard balcony in East Dallas, watching in disbelief as her neighbors across the alley hosted a long and noisy day of cockfighting, with its requisite gambling. One-by-one, brightly plumed gamecocks entered a makeshift fighting pit in the backyard of a house in the 5800 block of Reiger Avenue.

The birds slashed each other to death with sharp razors tied to the spurs on their legs, and their owners unceremoniously tossed bodies of dead birds into a dumpster in the alley.

McAnally, who had moved into her spacious duplex in the 5800 block of Victor Street only weeks earlier, says she immediately called 911 and reported what she was witnessing. A Dallas Police dispatcher, she says, dutifully took down the information. Then McAnally settled in again on her balcony, hoping police would arrive and break up the fights.

The fighting continued for hours, finally breaking up in the early afternoon, McAnally says. But no police officers ever showed.

"I know the police have a lot to do, but they had hours to come by and check this out," McAnally says. "We were actual eyewitnesses to this, for hours. It's really a disgusting thing, and no one seems to be interested in doing anything about it."

To this day, in fact, no one seems interested in doing anything about it.
So angered was McAnally by the city's lack of response that she began working the phones on December 26--the first business day after Christmas--trying to find someone in some agency who might care that cockfights are taking place in East Dallas.

Although the Christmas Day fight was the only one she has witnessed, McAnally says it appears that it was not an isolated incident. Rows of cages containing fighting cocks are set up in the backyard of the Reiger Avenue house, McAnally says, and it seems the bird fighting is an ongoing enterprise.

But more than two months after first raising her complaints, McAnally is still waiting for some authority to do anything, and has found her concerns strangled in red tape.

A more timid person might have given up long ago. But McAnally, a political junkie who, at age 18, was the youngest candidate ever to run for the Dallas Independent School District board of trustees (she lost to ex-trustee Dan Peavy), is no shrinking violet.

"I just keep at it. I just want something done about it. So do my neighbors," says McAnally, a petite woman with chic wire-frame glasses, an infectious laugh, and a knack for nonstop chatter.

The story McAnally recounts of trying to unleash justice on the cockfighters--in Texas cockfighting is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine of up to $4,000--sounds like a spoof of the operations in some wretched banana republic. And in Dallas, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.

"Actually, on [December 26] we first called the police department's non-emergency number," McAnally recalls. "They told us to hang up and call 911, which we did. After we explained everything to the dispatcher, she told us to hang up and call animal control, so we did."

An animal control dispatcher took the complaint, McAnally says, but told her that unless an actual fight was in progress, the problem would be a matter for the city's code enforcement office.

"I was like, hel-lo," McAnally says, indignantly. "I had just called the day before, reporting this big long cockfight in progress. But no one had bothered to come over."

Increasingly frustrated but undaunted, McAnally says she then called code enforcement. She says a worker there told her, quite simply, that cockfighting "was not their issue."

"They said that, at one time, the city had tried to outlaw the possession of roosters within city limits," McAnally says. "And there was this huge backlash. Everyone apparently claimed they kept chickens as pets and for the eggs. So now it's only legal to keep them as pets, but you can't fight them."

This is true, says Sgt. Jim Chandler, a Dallas Police Department spokesman. The legal distinction is drawn between raising roosters and fighting them. But, Chandler acknowledges, most folks don't keep scores of roosters in their yards without the intention of fighting them.

As for code enforcement's position, a department employee contacted by the Dallas Observer denies that anyone in the department would respond that cockfighting is "not their issue."

"It is something we would look into for possible code violations, like a noise ordinance," the employee says. "And we would direct the complaint about animal cruelty to animal control."

McAnally says she was prepared to give up on the animal cruelty aspect of the case--though after watching a fight, that was clearly the most troubling part of the problem to her. "When they're not fighting, those roosters are just crowing all day long," she says. "So I figured maybe we could go at it like a public health issue. You know, noise pollution. Or pestilence. A bunch of birds together like that could attract lice, or roaches, or something."

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