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Ruffling Feathers at the Shelter

SANTA FE, N.M. — The accommodations at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter are for the birds.

Since last summer, the crowing of roosters has echoed through the facility’s hallways – all but drowning out the barks and meows of the other critters who call the shelter their temporary home.

“They never stop,” said Audrey Velasco, a supervisor with Santa Fe County Animal Control, said of the roosters. “First thing in the morning, and the last thing in the day when you drive away, you can hear them.”

The chickens’ quirky antics and random chatter have been a little too much to handle for folks like Velasco, who are not used to them.

“They’re kind of creepy,” she said of the roosters. “They’re kind of eerie.”

But the cocky noisemakers aren’t going anywhere for a while. That’s because the birds are more than just guests at the animal shelter – they’re evidence in a criminal case. The roosters were used in an alleged cockfighting ring that was busted by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office last July.

Prosecutors need to keep the roosters somewhere because they plan to have the birds strut before jurors in the upcoming trial of Raul Trinidad-Enriquez, who is accused of running a cockfighting ring on a property in the area of Santa Fe Downs.

What ultimately happens to the roosters will depend on the outcome of the criminal trial, which is set for jury selection in August. For now, they are county property.

“It’s not typical,” District Attorney Angela “Spence” Pacheco said of the county’s chicken flock. “But it’s evidence in a criminal offense.”

The allegations against Trinidad-Enriquez are serious. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of humor in the case. The last name of the prosecutor who will take this matter to trial, for example, is Cox. The sheriff’s deputy who investigated the case? His last name is Crow.

And if Trinidad-Enriquez is convicted, it could be said that his chickens have come home to roost.

Employees at the shelter have been doing their best, and trying not to get their feathers ruffled. Challenges have included where to house the birds, keeping each rooster separate so the birds don’t fight with each other, finding a veterinarian who knows how to provide medical care, and figuring out how to preserve the carcass of any rooster that might die.

To add to the headache, the shelter has been taking in animal evacuees of the Las Conchas Fire raging in the area of Los Alamos. So the shelter has had a full house of cats, dogs and, yes, roosters.

“It’s been extremely interesting, I’ll tell you that,” Velasco said, with a laugh. “You first got to learn how to handle them. When I first did, I opened the door to a cage and they just started flapping toward me, all over the place.

“I screamed like a girl. I do that with moths, too. Just so you know.”

Velasco said that when the shelter first got the birds, “you couldn’t hear yourself talk.”

“When you walk into the building, you hardly even hear dogs barking, but you hear roosters crowing,” said Santa Fe County Sheriff Robert Garcia. “But we have to deal with it.”

During a recent visit by the Journal, the roosters were being kept in separate cages located behind the intake area for new dog arrivals. The birds’ loud crows often spook the canines.

“They’re pretty stressed out to begin with when they arrive here,” Velasco said of the dogs. “This isn’t helping.”

The double-decker cages were separated by boards because employees feared the birds may end up fighting one another. Velasco said the shelter typically only deals with dogs and cats, so she and others there had to do their homework when trying to figure out the ins and outs of taking care of the birds – knowing that roosters like to munch on gravel, for example, which helps with digestion.

Workers also played the role of beauticians, by learning how to trim the birds’ beaks from time to time. “That’s another thing we learned how to do,” Velasco said.

Then, there was a situation that involved a bird that came down with an infection. The in-house veterinarian didn’t know the first thing about treating sick roosters, so the county had to pony up the cost of an outside vet to take a look at the bird, which unfortunately died.

The bird’s death brought an additional cost to taxpayers. “It couldn’t be destroyed because it’s evidence,” said Santa Fe County Sheriff Robert Garcia. “That’s a minimum of 300 or some dollars that have to come out of my own budget.”

The dead rooster is being preserved in a freezer.

“We have to keep it,” DA Pacheco said of the dead bird. “The case is going to trial.”

Asked if she’ll be sad to see the roosters leave some day, Velasco said simply, “No. I will not miss them.”

Cutline – One of nine roosters living at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter for the trial of a cockfighting case against a La Cienega man.