Before we consider the issue that U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., phoned me to talk about last week — shipping fighting birds through the United States Postal Service — we need to wrap our heads around the general idea of animals being sent through the mail.
It is a common practice.
“They sent me a list of things you can legally mail,” Quigley said. “Poultry, honeybees, scorpions, live adult birds, which is depressing. Baby alligators, frogs, chameleons, lizards, etc.”
Which makes sense. Animals need to get to farms and pet stores. It isn’t like they can take a bus. Posting them doesn’t strike me as particularly cruel. Given the amount of time a frog spends hibernating at the bottom of a frigid lake, four days in a dark container doesn’t seem a crime against nature.
But that isn’t the problem Quigley is trying to address.
“Today we’re focused on buying, selling, possessing or receiving any animals for purposes of the animal participating in a fighting venture,” Quigley said.
Cockfights — putting two birds in a ring, with razor talons attached to their claws, and goading them to maul each other — is one of the more obscure sub-hells of sport. Illegal in all 50 states, it is still permitted in territories like Puerto Rico and Guam.
Maybe I’ve been softened up by COVID isolation, But I was happy just to be approached by somebody about something. Quigley could have been exercised about the Oxford comma, and I’d give him my ear.
Earlier this month, Quigley sent a letter to Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale, asking the USPS to develop a strategy to start better enforcing the 2002 federal law against shipping animals for fighting purposes.
“There have been 500 shipments of fighting birds, mostly from state-based farms in the Carolinas, some 10,000 fighting animals sent to Guam,” Quigley said. The birds are also being sent to Puerto Rico.
I wondered if there wasn’t a cultural factor here. We don’t ban horse racing, which is not a picnic for the horses either. Or boxing for that matter. Maybe we’re just cracking down on cockfighting because people in Puerto Rico and Guam like it.
“Look, I’m aware of that sensitivity,” replied Quigley. “Some of this is cultural. Well, so is domestic violence.”
Not wanting to go down that path, I asked Quigley how he got into the bird protection end of government.
“Apparently, I’m one of the go-to people now when human issues deal with animals,” he said. “People are sending more information like this to me, because I’m sponsor of big cat safety bill” — a federal law that would shut down America’s would-be tiger kings and ban private ownership of lions, too.
By now, readers may be wondering why, with the raft of unfolding disasters and major crises, Quigley is going to bat for lions, tigers and roosters.
“I’m on the intelligence committee,” Quigley said. “Working every day on hot spots and threats: Ukraine, North Korean, China, Iran. We do have ability and resources to solve more than a few of our problems.”
Fair enough. More than birds are harmed.
“We’ve learned kids who abused animals are very likely to be violent toward humans when they grow up,” Quigley said.
When the previous president installed Louis DeJoy as head of the USPS, in a bald attempt to cripple the postal service, to hurt Jeffrey Bezos and kneecap mail-in voting, one of the unexpected side effects was on the shipment of live animals: There was a ruckus earlier in the year in New York state, which tried to ban the practice after nearly 4,800 baby chicks died after languishing in some postal facility. There were calls for banning mailing animals altogether, a practice that has been legal since 1918.
“I’m actually going to look into that, especially with the condition of the mails,” Quigley said. “It’s worth looking into. Is there a better, more humane way to do this?”
My guess is there’s not; the solution is to fire DeJoy and get the mail humming again. Though regarding cockfights, it’s hard to argue with Quigley.
“Animal fighting is bad enough,” he said. “Let’s not add to it. You put a live animal in a box, with no water, no food, for an 8,000-mile journey to Guam, only to be trained to fight to the death with talons and metal claws. Let’s reduce the misery involved.”