Some see conflict in wild fowl plan
By Peter Boylan
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Peter Boylan
Animal rights activists and some residents are objecting to the city's decision to hire members of the island's cock-breeding community to remove feral chickens from private residences.
Since 2002, the Hawai'i Gamebreeders Association has been capturing all birds at private O'ahu residences and mediating disputes between neighbors over crowing roosters. The current contract is worth $60,000 a year.
Association members say, as experts in breeding and raising the fowl, they have the experience to chase down wild chickens.
Opponents, however, say game breeding is unethical, and they do not want anyone involved in the practice to be responsible for feral animals. The opponents also question whether the game breeders can objectively mediate disputes between neighbors, a duty that also comes with the contract, if fellow game breeders are involved.
Pat Royos and her husband, Jose, who operate Royos Farm in the Waiahole Valley, have had the contract since July 2007. They got the contract following the expiration of an older, $45,000 contract with the Hawai'i Gamebreeders Association, the umbrella organization for cock breeders in the state.
The Hawai'i association is part of the United Gamefowl Breeders Association, a national lobbying group founded in 1975 that includes 31 affiliate organizations in 30 states.
The Royos family raises about 100 fighting roosters and brood fowl that they ship to Guam and Saipan.
As part of the feral chicken contract, the Royos family estimate they have captured 1,800 chickens on O'ahu between July 2007 and last week.
"Chickens have certain ways of doing things and you have to know how to handle the game breeders," said Pat Royos, first vice president and one of the roughly 1,800 members of the Hawai'i Gamebreeders Association. "It's better us doing the job because we know people. We know who they (the chicken breeders) are. We come across a lot of people that we know that fight chickens but when they see us they recognize us and they listen."
Cockfighting is a popular pastime in the Islands, and the events, or derbies, draw hundreds to rural locations throughout the state on most weekends from September through July, when the birds begin to molt.
Although cockfighting is illegal under state and federal law, prosecutions are rare.
Current state laws address cockfighting in two ways: by prohibiting animal cruelty and by outlawing the sharp metal gaffs attached to the legs of chickens during a fight.
Both offenses are misdemeanors.
A federal bill signed into law on May 3, 2007, makes it a felony to stage, promote or facilitate a cockfight. The law also prohibits buying, selling or transporting animals across state or international borders for the purpose of fighting.
And it prohibits buying, selling or transporting knives, gaffs and other weapons used in cockfighting.
Federal and local law officials have yet to enforce the federal law.
Not everyone agrees members of the association should have the contract.
Cate Matsushima, who lives in Kalihi, said game breeders have a conflict that prevents them from properly responding to complaints when they involve association members.
"I object to the fact that I was initially referred to phone this organization for assistance/mediation for noisy roosters — based on a complaint against individuals who raise birds for cockfighting — and was sent on a wild goose chase with no results," said Matsushima, who said it took weeks before the Royoses and police responded to complaints.
"Why would advocates of cockfighting be given money to assist people who complain about crowing roosters? I have to believe they have a responsibility as an organization to support the breeders rather than individuals bringing about a complaint," Matsushima said.
Officials with the Hawaiian Humane Society, which once handled the feral chicken responsibilities for the city, also object to the arrangement, saying cockfighting is a type of animal cruelty.
"I think cockfighting needs to be taken much more seriously than it is in this community. To me this is an example of this community not taking this bloodsport as seriously as they should," said Pamela Burns, president and CEO of the Hawaiian Humane Society. "I would consider it an ethical conflict (for the Royoses to have the contract) but it's not my decision."
The society handled complaints of crowing roosters and nuisance fowl from 1991 to 2002, but had to give up the work when resources became scarce, Burns said.
City officials say they have received no complaints that the Royos family favors game breeders.
Dennis A. Kamimura, licensing administrator for the city and county of Honolulu, said the Royoses and the Hawai'i Game
breeders Association have been successful in capturing feral birds for six years.
Kamimura said the association helped the city as a public service from 2002 to 2006 because there was simply "no one else to call."
In 2006, the city formally hired the group, once money became available.
"It's been an effective partnership. In order to know how to quiet chickens you have to know what to do," said Kamimura. "The people that support fighting chickens and cockfighting don't necessarily ... engage in illegal activity."
The Royoses use traps to catch feral chickens.
Jose Royos, 70, who is from Yona, Guam, shapes the traps out of rectangles of chicken wire measuring 2-by-4 feet or 4-by-4 feet. The family leaves the traps along with chicken feed with homeowners.
The traps are rigged with a door and a string that allows the resident to pull the door shut from a distance once the chickens are inside eating the feed.
In addition to capturing the fowl for the city, the Royos family is required to mediate disputes between neighbors over crowing roosters and provide education about how to humanely silence the birds.
If they receive more than two complaints, the family is supposed to report the noise to police.
Fines for animal nuisance or violating the city's noise ordinance range from $25 to $500 and can include a court appearance.
According to city ordinances, permits are required and certain land specifications must be met to own more than two roosters. Some bird breeders who raised animals before the ordinance was enacted were grandfathered in.
The majority of the roosters that are captured are given to families to eat, said Pat Royos. Members of the Vietnamese, Indian, Filipino and Fijian communities regularly contact them asking for feral chickens for various cultural dishes, from curry to adobo, she said.
On rare occasions they come across fowl that are fit to fight, but the couple says they don't keep them.
"Maybe some of them (can fight) but they are on the skinny type of body and some have a lot of hair on their legs. They are not game chickens, anyway. When we're doing this (for the city) we can't do that — that makes us look bad," Royos said. "We'd much rather give them to people to eat. We cannot mix the chickens (with the ones on our farm) or cross-breed because they are not game chickens."
Reach Peter Boylan at firstname.lastname@example.org.