Groups offer reward program as cockfighting ring discovered at Norman barn fire.
Oklahoma City — Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy report that recent activities by pro-cockfighters in Oklahoma to weaken the state’s laws may be backfiring and in fact setting them back.
Efforts by cockfighting supporters to persuade the Oklahoma Legislature to soften the state’s cockfighting law seem to have increased awareness of the cockfighting problem and triggered more enforcement actions than at any time since voters approved a ballot initiative in 2002 to ban the staged animal fighting and associated activities. That initiative made those crimes felony offenses.
In addition, Animal Wellness Action announced today a revamped reward program that offers up to $2,500 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of persons involved in a crime related to cockfighting and dogfighting. Tipsters can email OKcrueltytips@animalwellnessaction.org with relevant information. Animal Wellness Action will be advertising the reward program throughout Oklahoma.
Recent activity by the Norman Police Department is just the latest law enforcement action in the state. Norman Animal Welfare reported 77 roosters were discovered on January 23 while assisting the Norman Fire Department in a failed attempt to rescue nine puppies from a barn fire in the 12200 block of E. Cedar Lane Road. First responders found dozens of roosters in “deplorable conditions alongside evidence of brutal training and exploitation of the animals for fighting purposes,” according to police.
Since the Legislature ended its work in 2023, there have been busts in Carter, Marshall, and Oklahoma counties.
“The only reason the cockfighting community wants to gut penalties to the state’s strong law against cockfighting is because they are breaking the law every day and they want to reduce their risk of arrest and prosecution,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action.
“With their organized political efforts, the cockfighters are signaling to Animal Wellness Action, law enforcement, and the public that they are committing widespread, organized criminal activities. We are now announcing again that we are alert to their maneuvers and that’s precisely why we are stepping up our investigations and our rewards programs to halt these vicious crimes against animals,” Pacelle added.
“We want to remind law enforcement that if sheriffs and police want to halt crime in their communities, bust up a cockfighting pit or a breeding operation for fighting animals,” he said.
- Ellie Pennit Grino and his wife, Jannine Crespo Yee, were arrested in April and charged in May in Oklahoma County District Court for cockfighting in their home. Grino is named in 59 cockfighting-related counts filed by Oklahoma County District Attorney Vicki Behenna’s office. He is charged with 50 counts of possessing birds with the intent to engage in a cockfight. He also is charged with eight counts of cruelty to animals for not providing necessary shelter for the roosters.
Police discovered fighting spurs along with wooden transport boxes for roosters in his vehicle. Investigators with the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division went to his house and confiscated 93 game-type birds — 50 roosters and 43 hens — along with 158 eggs from the property, along with a large number of vitamins, antibiotics, and leg tethers, according to affidavits filed in the case. Yee was inside the house along with her three children when officers arrived at the property. A preliminary hearing for Grino and Yee is set for April 5.
- Chance Campo, from Lone Grove, who is still listed on the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission’s website as a district director, has been charged in Carter County with servicing or facilitating a cockfight. A preliminary hearing conference was continued to February 22. He was arrested as the result of a June 19 cockfight bust. Eleven others were charged and face either felonies or misdemeanors.
- In Marshall County, three men were arrested in June for illegal cockfighting. Herminio Mendoza. Jamie Bell, and Jackson Bell are charged with possessing birds for fighting. The Bells are also charged with having and operating a cockfighting pit west of Madill. Their preliminary hearing was set for January 30. Mendoza, 61, pleaded guilty in November to a reduced misdemeanor of disturbing the peace. Sentencing was deferred until Nov. 8, 2025. He was placed on probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service work or pay $1,000 to a local nonprofit organization as well as a $500 fine and court costs of $912.
The roosters from the Norman bust are headed to the Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig’s Roost in Bennet, Colorado, where owner Jewel Johnson will rehome them.
There is virtually no public support for cockfighting in Oklahoma. According to an April 2023 Sooner Survey, fewer than 10 percent of Oklahomans think cockfighting should be legal and nearly 90 percent of voters favor the existing statewide ban that makes cockfighting a felony.
The FIGHT Act
Animal Wellness Action is leading an effort to strengthen the federal law against animal fighting, partly as a reaction to the lawlessness documented in Oklahoma. The Fighting Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Trafficking (FIGHT) Act would enhance the enforcement opportunities by banning simulcasting and gambling of animal fighting ventures; halting the shipment of mature roosters (chickens only) shipped through the U.S. mail (it is already illegal to ship dogs through the mail); creating a citizen suit provision, after proper notice to federal authorities, to allow private right of action against illegal animal fighters; and enhancing forfeiture provisions to include real property for animal fighting crimes.
U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and John Kennedy, R-La., are the lead authors of S. 1529, and by U.S. Reps. Don Bacon, R-Neb., and Andrea Salinas, D-Ore., are the authors of H.R. 2742. The legislation has been endorsed by more than 450 agencies and organizations including the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association, Kansas Sheriffs’ Association, the Michigan Sheriffs’ Association, and the Pennsylvania Association.