For some people, gamebirds like feathers, fowl, and roosters immediately bring thoughts of cockfighting. They are unaware that for generations Americans relied on heritage breeds of chickens, many of which are close to extinction today.
Thomas Carrano, in upstate New York, is an expert on these birds. They are his passion. He’s been breeding them for 37 years. Yet Carrano stands to lose a lifetime of work, along with the priceless bloodlines and genetics of these endangered birds, because of ignorance on the part of animal rights advocates.
Carrano and his wife have a small farm near Rochester, New York, where they raise game fowl. Speaking to Carrano, he explains that some of the breeds were used hundreds of years ago for cockfighting – and some people use them, illegally, for that purpose today. But the birds have other purposes as well. Carrano breeds the birds to preserve their bloodlines. He exhibits them. And he raises birds for slow-cooking. Chickens for organic slow-cooking fetch quite a bit more than the average chicken in your local grocery store. He’s been breeding and raising the birds since he was a boy.
A former president of the New York State Gamefowl Breeders Association, Carrano has been involved in providing education about gamefowl and exhibiting his birds at shows. He has worked with the Livestock Conservancy to promote the standard size for the Old English Game Fowl, an ancient breed introduced to England by the Romans. Carrano and the club have also worked with the American Poultry Association on setting standards for the Gamefowl breeds. The club has also made it very clear that it doesn’t support cockfighting in any way.
Mr. Carrano’s birds were inspected by the New York State Department of Agriculture, with an inspector coming to see them every year. He also participates in the USDA National Poultry Improvement Plan.
It’s fair to say that Thomas Carrano is highly respected as a gamefowl breeder. You can imagine his surprise, then, last summer when four federal agents, along with 30-40 ASPCA personnel, pulled up in his driveway one morning around 6 a.m. while he and his wife were drinking coffee before going to work.
The federal agents had a warrant. They were looking for evidence of cockfighting. Carrano was made to sit in his kitchen while they searched the premises. There was no evidence because, well, Mr. Carrano isn’t a cockfighter. Unfortunately, that didn’t protect his birds. Carrano’s birds are housed some 300 feet from his driveway. According to neighbors and others who witnessed their actions, the people from ASPCA put the birds in boxes, dropped them on the ground, tossed them around, and rolled them to their trucks, all of which is very stressful for the birds that have been raised from eggs on the property. An ASPCA truck also drove off and broke the end of his driveway as it was leaving.
According to Mr. Carrano, he had five or six hens who were sitting on large nests of eggs getting ready to hatch. The agents and ASPCA personnel broke all of the eggs so they couldn’t produce new chicks. They took all 70 of his hens and all of his roosters. These were birds that Carrano had bred and raised himself. He interacted with each bird several times per day and could identify each one on sight.
As Mr. Carrano explained, “My wife and I don’t have any children and so I put all of myself into caring for my birds.” Some of his birds had bloodlines dating back to the 1890s, and one special hen he had kept for 16 years.
Despite seizing his birds, after four months there were still no charges in the case. Friends rallied around Carrano and a legal expense fund was set up to help him. The ASPCA was pressuring Carrano to relinquish his ownership rights to the birds, asking him four times to give them up.
Unable to charge him with cockfighting, the government finally brought one count against Carrano: conspiracy to train and then sell his roosters to cockfighters.
According to Carrano, the ASPCA has some people with basic knowledge of cockfighting on staff so when they see someone raising game birds, they assume that the only reason someone would be involved with birds must be cockfighting. He says they’re not familiar with the legitimate agricultural uses for game birds.
ASPCA is currently keeping his birds in two separate locations which Carrano said he could not disclose. He has been allowed to see them and he worries about their current condition.
Carrano lives seven hours from New York City, where his case is being adjudicated. That means every time there is a pre-trial motion or hearing, he has to travel to NYC, stay overnight or longer, and travel back, at considerable cost. He says that ASPCA is aware of this cost when they seize animals from people in upstate New York. Travel becomes even more problematic in the winter with the cold and deep snows in the Rochester area. These difficult conditions are meant to put more pressure on a defendant, encouraging them to give up their due process and make a deal.
Because of the charge against him, Mr. Carrano has also had to give up his legal handgun. And he is not allowed to leave the state.
Per Mr. Carrano, he is due in court in January when his attorney, Andrew Karpf, will be making a motion to dismiss the case. If the case is not dismissed, it would proceed to trial in the springtime in 2018. He says his attorney is very optimistic.
Asked what he would like others to take away from this case, Mr. Carrano said that he thinks animal rights groups are over-reaching and trying to take away due process from animal owners. Charges can be trumped up against people and they can be costly to fight in court. Stories in the media usually only tell one side – that of the animal rights groups.
He also wants people to know how important preservation is for our animals. Many people caring for breeds of animals today belong to an older generation. Once they are gone, who will care for these animals? With animal rights groups seizing animals (and in some cases destroying or spay/neutering them), there is a tremendous loss of old bloodlines and genetics for all kinds of animals, including game birds. We’re not just losing breeders and owners because of animal rights groups. We are losing the breeds we need to preserve.