A national animal rights group has set its sights on Monterey County officials and the SPCA of Monterey County, claiming that they are doing nothing about an alleged cockfighting facility in Royal Oaks.
The Illinois-based group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, posted a video of the facility it claims was recorded by one of its “angel drones” in August to YouTube on Aug. 27. Numerous roosters in ramshackle pens, covered by a patchwork of corrugated metal pieces, can be seen in the video.
The video accuses the Monterey County Sheriff’s Department and the SPCA—the nonprofit organization responsible for investigating animal cruelty in the county—of doing nothing about the facility. (The SPCA denies the claim; the Sheriff's Department did not respond to messages requesting comment.)
“Monterey County will be watched, and as long as it takes, exposed,” a narrator says at the end of the video that had nearly 2,000 views as of Aug. 30.
In an Aug. 29 press release, SHARK—along with a San Rafael-based group called the Humane Farming Association and a group called Monterey County Animals Now—"demand that Monterey County officials take immediate action to investigate, and possibly seize, scores of birds from a large suspected cockfighting operation."
SPCA spokesperson Beth Brookhouser says there is an “active and open” investigation into the facility located on the 200 block of Hudson Landing Road in North Monterey County.
She could not say more because it is an open investigation, but reports that SPCA investigators have visited the site “multiple times” and are working with other county agencies.
The owner of the property, Jaime Martinez, says he’s renting land behind his home to several people raising roosters for show and other purposes he's not aware of and denies there is anything related to cockfighting taking place.
“Whatever the group is saying, they’re saying stuff that’s not true,” he says.
Martinez and his wife, Francisca, are named on an administrative citation issued on Aug. 17, by the Monterey County Resource Management Agency, listing three violations: more than five roosters on site without permits; substandard fencing, animal enclosures and shed; and, accumulation of rubbish and debris.
The citation requires the couple to either apply for permits to keep more than five roosters or removed all but five roosters from the site by Sept. 17. They are also required to obtain a construction permit from the county to build animal enclosures over 240 square feet and remove all rubbish. Failure to comply will result in fines starting at $100 a day, reaching $1,000 a day starting Sept. 21.
(The Monterey County Board of Supervisors revised the county's rooster ordinance in December 2014. Prior to that up to 499 roosters per household were allowed. Getting a permit requires an inspection that checks for humane quarters, sanitation and evidence of cockfighting.)
SHARK founder Steve Hindi says he was alerted to the location by someone from Monterey County Animals Now. (That local person requested not to be identified.)
Hindi, who lives in Illinois, happened to be in California recently, and made the drive to Royal Oaks to see the property. He thought he could see evidence of “an awful lot of fighting roosters,” and nothing indicating the birds would be used for eggs or meat.
“I don’t understand why when you’ve got a situation like that and it’s been there awhile, why the authorities won’t do their job,” he says. “Either enforce the laws or get out and let somebody else do it.”
This is not the first time SHARK has taken aim at the SPCA of Monterey County. Hindi claims the agency has not done enough when it comes to protecting animals at California Rodeo Salinas. He’s repeatedly posted videos to YouTube as early as 10 years ago showing injured animals from the event.
Brookhouser says the SPCA takes complaints of animal abuse and cruelty seriously, investigating more than 950 cases a year.
In the case of the roosters in Royal Oaks, the agency cannot seize the birds without direct evidence, like a cockfight in progress or tools related to cockfighting.
“We’re taking this very seriously, but we must work within the California state law,” she says. “Sometimes (an investigation) takes a little bit longer than people would like.”