MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Wisconsin authorities and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have seized about 1,200 birds from a cockfighting ring in Polk and St. Croix counties.

Three brothers, Ernesto, Agustin and Idelio Benitez, are under arrest under suspicion of instigating fights between animals, police said.

Ernesto, Agustin and Idelio Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

Ernesto, Agustin and Idelio Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

The ASPCA says law enforcement executed search warrants Tuesday at four western Wisconsin properties.

“Right now we just have teams going through, identifying and documenting evidence, as well as providing medical examinations on all the birds and providing medical care,” ASPCA’s Tim Rickey said.

Hundreds of roosters, hens and chicks were found in makeshift enclosures, many without food and water. Authorities also seized a fighting pit and cockfighting paraphernalia such as gaffs, which are knife-like attachments added to roosters to cause extra damage to opponents in fights.

“Illegal cockfighting is a brutal and barbaric form of animal torture,” Rickey said. “These animals are put into a ring, forced to fight. They’re often times fitted with knives for gaffs, which just make the fight even more brutal.”

The operation in St. Croix and Polk counties is now shut down.

Capt. Steven Smith with the Polk County Sheriff’s Department calls ASPCA’s involvement critical.

“The experts they brought in, the veterinarians, the ability they have to assess the health of each of these birds, identify them — that’s something we won’t have the capability to do,” Smith said.

A tip led to the months-long investigation. Rickey said there are red flags to watch for: many more roosters than hens, people (some from out of state) coming and going on a property, people bringing in birds and taking some out.

Verona, Wisconsin’s Heartland Animal Sanctuary, Indiana’s Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control and Animal Rescue League in Des Moines, Iowa are assisting with caring for and relocating the seized animals.

Click here for more information on the hazards of cockfighting.

Agustin Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

Agustin Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

Idelio Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

Idelio Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

Ernesto Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

Ernesto Benitez (credit: Polk County Jail)

 

Jennifer Mayerle