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Brimley fights for rights of cockfighters

Actor Wilford Brimley, a resident of Park City, says there's a simple reason voters should reject an initiative Tuesday to ban cockfighting: It's the right thing to do.

The grandfatherly actor, last seen in the movie "In & Out," didn't use that exact phrase, made famous in his pitches for oatmeal. But he said Saturday at a downtown Phoenix rally against Proposition 201 that voters should reject it out of good common sense."I'm trying to protect a lifestyle of freedom and choice for my grandchildren," said Brimley, 64.

Polls show the initiative is almost certain to pass.

Brimley said the animal rights groups backing Proposition 201 have no right to dictate what other people do. He also said its passage could lead to other laws about animals, including a ban on using dogs for hunting.

"My saddle horses are my friends," he said. "My dogs are my friends. Once an idea like this gets started I don't know where it's gonna end."

In cockfights, most popular in rural areas, two roosters face off in a fighting pit, often with sharp blades tied to their feet. The birds, goaded on by their cheering owners, slash and peck each other until one dies. The fights are most popular with retirees, veterans and Mexican immigrants, cockfighters say.

Kim Hicks, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Humane Society, says cockfighters are trying to distract voters from the cruelty of cockfighting by calling Proposition 201 a threat to rural traditions.

"This isn't about anything except cockfighting," she said. "We have no intention of telling Mr. Brimley what he can or can't do with his dog."

Proposition 201 would make it a misdemeanor to attend a cockfight and a felony to own, train or engage a rooster in battle.

Cockfighting is legal in Arizona and four other states: New Mexico, Oklahoma, Missouri and Louisiana. Brimley says he travels from his home in Utah to Arizona to attend fights.

"They're magnificent. It's always thrilling to watch," said Brimley. "Ounce for ounce these are the toughest game creatures on the face of the earth."

About 50 cockfighters from across the state showed up at the rally, held outside the Madison Street Jail. They said the jail would be filled with otherwise law-abiding cockfighters if the initiative passed.

"I'm 59 and I've never even been fingerprinted," said Bob Teverbaugh, who sells fighting roosters and keeps more than 200 at his home in Safford.

Joe Medina, a Phoenix cock-fighter, brought a 15-month-old Democratic Hatch rooster to the rally. He said the law would require many fighting birds to be euthanized.

"Why euthanize them when you can set them down and let them do what they do best," he said.

Hicks said the only way the roosters would be euthanized was if their owners brought them in to the Humane Society. "We would still very much encourage them to keep their roosters if they love them as much as they say they do," she said.