Avery Fitzgerald Cockfighting - 39 roosters seized

Coleman Falls, VA

Bedford County

December 22, 2008

The provisional custody of 39 roosters suspected of being used for cockfighting has blossomed into a learning experience of sorts for Bedford County authorities.

  (Photo courtesy of Jill Nance/The News & Advance)  39 roosters are being cared for at the Bedford County Animal Shelter after being seized.

After arresting and charging Avery Fitzgerald of Coleman Falls with two counts of selling the animals for fighting purposes, the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office placed the birds at the county’s animal shelter. Once Fitzgerald’s criminal case is decided, a judge will determine what to do with them.

In the meantime, shelter employees have spent the past several days adjusting to the roosters and seeing to their care, said Scott Polinek, operations manager.

“We have no idea how long they are going to be here,” said Polinek. “You just have to deal with it.”

The shelter is mainly used for companion animals. However, Polinek said the agricultural setting of the county usually leads to animal control officers bringing in an array of animals like horses, donkeys, cows, goats, sheep and pigs. But the shelter never has received so many birds at one time.

Maj. Ricky Gardner of the sheriff’s office referred to the roosters’ confiscation as a rare but “eye-opening” experience that could help the department as it deals with such cases from now on.

Through “divine intervention,” Polinek said the shelter had cat cages on hand that on the brink of getting thrown away. They now house the roosters with a tarp overhead directly behind the shelter’s facility on Falling Creek Road.

The roosters were crowing loudly this week, joining with nearby noises of barking dogs within the shelter.

“We’re trying to figure out how long they will be with us,” he said. “This is obviously a temporary facility here.”

“If we hadn’t had these cages, I don’t know what we would have done,” said Michael Stokes, a county employee who also coordinates with the shelter. “Now that we have thought through it, something like this could happen again. We’re just going to end up keeping these cages for these hopefully rare situations when they come up.”

The roosters have been treated by local veterinarians and appear to be in good health, though they have shown some aggressive tendencies toward each other, Polinek said. They have to be separated in their own cages with handlers wearing gloves as a precaution.

Investigators suspected for years that Fitzgerald had been running a cockfighting operation. Capt. Mike Miller said Fitzgerald sold two fighting roosters to undercover deputies, one on Nov. 9th and the other on Dec. 14th.  The roosters were purchased for about $100 according to Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown.

During the investigation, Sheriff Brown said, deputies found a fighting pit, betting cards and metal spurs to be attached to the roosters' legs to enhance their ability to hurt their opponents.

It will be up to the commonwealth's attorney as to whether there will be other charges, Brown said.

Selling a rooster for fighting purposes is a Class 6 felony in Virginia punishable by up to five years in prison on each count.

Fitzgerald is scheduled to face a preliminary hearing Jan. 5 in Bedford County General District Court.


The News & Advance