Canned Pleasure: The Thrill of the Kill

by Walter Brasch

     Would you like to go to Zimbabwe, kill and behead a lion, just like that dentist from Minnesota or the physician from Pittsburgh recently did? They paid about $50,000 each for that experience.

     How about a black rhino, an endangered species? A professional hunter from Dallas, Texas, won a $350,000 lottery to stalk and kill that animal in southern Namibia. In the 1950s, there were about 70,000 black rhinos. There are now fewer than 2,400, most of them killed off by the human predators.

     If giraffes are your thing, you can go to South Africa and, like a woman from Idaho, kill the world’s tallest animal, pose with it, and post it onto your Facebook page.

     But, let’s say your anemic bank account can’t provide you with the funds for a two-week safari, because that rebel flag you just bought to mount on your broken-down pick-up cost too much.

     For a few thousand dollars, Great White Hunters-complete with rented guides, dogs, and guns or bows-can go into a fenced-in area and shoot an exotic species. In most canned hunts, the animals have been bred to be killed, have little fear of humans, and are often lured to a feeding station or herded toward the hunter to allow a close-range kill. In some of the preserves, animals are drugged or tied to stakes. Some of the “big cats,” recorded in investigative undercover videos by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fund for Animals were declawed, placed in cages, and then released; the terrified and non-aggressive animals were then killed within a few yards of their prisons; some were killed while in their cages.

     For less than $3,000 you can go to Snyder County, Pa., and kill an elk, a deer, or a wild boar. You don’t even need a hunting license or worry about hunting out of season. The animals are fenced in on a private preserve.

     The club recently placed full-page ads in local newspapers, and promises that for your $1,000 to $3,000 thrill, you get a guaranteed success, lodging, meals, and even a color photo of you and what is euphemistically known as a trophy.

     If pheasants are your thing, you can head out to the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier, Pa. This is where Dick Cheney and some of his shooting buddies stood and killed more than 400 just-released birds, which they blasted onto their dinner plates for a lead-scented meal. In the afternoon, having hardly raised a bead of sweat, the good ole boys slaughtered dozens of equally tame mallards that had been hand-raised and shoved in front of waiting shotguns for the massacre. By the time Cheney flew out of the area, the mallards were plucked and vacuum-packed, ready for flight aboard the taxpayer-funded Air Force 2.

     The pheasant hunt was a year after the Mighty Dick sent shotgun pellets into the face of a 78-year-old hunting companion, whom he thought was a quail.

     Prefer pigeons? Although they’re not a “canned hunt,” there are still a half-dozen target shoots in southeastern Pennsylvania, where club officials release the birds within 20 yards of contestants, making a kill even easier than hitting metal ducks at a carnival’s shooting gallery. You can’t even eat the pigeons-by the time you pick the shotgun pellets from the bird, there’s no meat left.

     Many of the animals on canned hunts are surplus animals bought from dealers who buy cast-off animals from zoos and circuses; the animals sold to the preserves are often aged and arthritic. Dozens of preserves have bought black bears, zebras, giraffes, lions, boars, and just about any species of animal the client could want, solely to be killed, photographed, and then skinned, stuffed, and mounted.

     Most “kills” on the “farms” are from animals bleeding out. Animals suffer from minutes to hours, says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States. Canned hunting, says Prescott, “is about as sporting as shooting a puppy in pet store window.” Most sportsmen agree with her.

     The concept of the “fair chase” is embedded into hunter culture. The Boone & Crockett Club and the Pope and Young Club (bowhunters), two of the three primary organizations that rate trophy kills, refuse to accept applications from persons who bagged their “trophy” on a canned hunt. The Safari Club does allow persons to seek recognition, but only under limitations that most preserves can’t meet.

     These pretend-hunters have dozens of reasons why they do what they do. The word “conservation” often appears dripping from their meat-filled lips. Some claim they are doing it to conserve wildlife by eliminating the weakest among the species. But, since animals have done rather well at preserving the balance of nature, why would humans want to alter it?

     The big-game safari killers, who can afford a southern African hunt that costs more than the yearly wages of most Americans, say that the fees go to conservation efforts to save the animals. If that’s the reason, why not just take that huge roll of 100s, donate it to the preserves, take a tax deduction and get a suitable-for-framing color photo of a living animal?

     Whatever their reasons to mask their recreation, there is only one reason why they do what they do. They enjoy massaging a phallic symbol and taking a life.

     [Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, is the author of 20 books; the most recent one is Fracking Pennsylvania. He also believes in shooting only inanimate objects, especially clay pigeons, which he misses more than he hits.]

 

The Politics of Animal Cruelty

by Walter Brasch

Pennsylvanians can still butcher, braise, and broil their pet cats and dogs because a murky mixture of politics has left a critical bill on the table in the state senate.

Residents may also continue to use cats, dogs, and other animals as targets for what some erroneously call “sporting events.”

Although there are no documented cases of cats and dogs being thrown into the air at these shoots, there is a long history in Pennsylvania of pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state where such shoots occur legally. The remaining shoots are in the southeastern part of the state, in Berks and Bucks counties near Philadelphia. However, this past week, an undercover investigator for SHARK, an animal rights group, documented a pigeon shoot in Oklahoma to provide campaign funds for Sen. James Inhofe (R). About 1,000 pigeons, according to SHARK, were thrown into the air a few yards from the shooters.

In Pennsylvania, scared and undernourished birds are placed into cages, and then launched about 30 yards in front of people with 12-gauge shotguns. Most birds, as many as 5,000 at an all-day shoot, are hit standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from the people who pretend to be sportsmen. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who for 25 years has been documenting and leading the effort to pass legislation to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. Birds that fall outside the shooting club’s property are left to die long and horrible deaths. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Game Commission says pigeon shoots are not “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee declared pigeon shoots aren’t a sport, and banned it after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals.

But, the Pennsylvania Senate still hasn’t taken HB1750 off the table for discussion. Any senator may request the Senate to suspend the rules to allow a bill come off the table; none have.

The House passed the original bill, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R), 201-0, in November 2013.

It was amended in the Senate, with Maher’s approval, to ban pigeon shoots under Title 18, which includes animal cruelty statutes.  Although butchering and selling cats and dogs would be a first degree misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $1,000-$10,000 and a maximum prison term of five years, pigeon shoot violations would be only a summary offense, carrying a maximum $300 fine and/or three months jail sentence, and only for those operating the shoot. That bill was approved in the Republican-led Judiciary Committee, 10-4, on June 26. In the next two days, it passed two of the required three readings in the full Senate, but was tabled, July 8, when the Senate recessed for more than two months. The bill was not placed on the voting calendar when the Senate reconvened for five days between Sept. 15 and Sept. 24. The Senate is again in recess and will reconvene for two to four days, beginning Oct. 6 before going on recess until after the Nov. 4 election.

One of the four who voted against the bill in the judiciary committee was Joseph B. Scarnati III (R), the Senate president pro tempore. In his past two elections, Scranati received $5,275 from the NRA PAC, and $1,000 from the Flyers Victory Fund; the Victory Fund was established to support pigeon shoots. However, Scarnati didn’t influence if the bill was to be voted upon by the full Senate, says Kate Eckhart, Scarnati’s communications and legislative affairs assistant. The senator who does influence what bills go on the calendar is Dominic Pileggi (R), the majority leader. Pileggi had voted for the bill when it was in Judiciary Committee. However, Pileggi doesn’t put a bill on the calendar until the Republican caucus discusses it.

Republican caucus leader is Sen. John Gordner (R), who also voted against the bill in committee. However, Gorder says he voted against the bill on procedural grounds. The amendment, says Todd Roup, Gordner’s chief of staff, “was slipped onto the committee’s calendar at the last minute without required notice.”

Gregg Warner, the Judiciary Committee’s legal counsel, disagrees. “We notify members of the committee what bills will be on the agenda on Thursdays or Fridays the week before [a Tuesday meeting],” says Warner, “and then distribute summaries of the bills a day before.” Amendments are often distributed on Mondays before scheduled Tuesday meetings.

“Once there is enough support in the caucus,” says Roup, the bill will go back to Pileggi. The person responsible for counting votes is Sen. Patrick Browne, Republican minority whip. Because caucus discussions are secret, neither Browne nor Gordner will reveal if the bill was discussed. Gordner, however, will vote for the bill if it gets to the floor for a third reading, says Roup.

Josh Funk, deputy general counsel of the Senate Republican caucus, says there are two tests as to whether a bill is placed onto the calendar to be voted upon by the full Senate. The first test is if a majority in the caucus wants it. The second test, says Funk, is that, “It is not Sen. Pileggi’s policy to put bills up for a vote if the end result will be that they fail to receive 26 votes,” a Senate majority.” However, in the final two days before the Senate recessed this past week, Pileggi did place two bills onto the calendar that failed, by wide margins, to get 26 votes. Nevertheless, a policy that severely restricts open debate, with most discussions and decisions made in secret, significantly reduces the rights of the public to learn how their elected representatives think about a particular issue; the policy could violate Section 702 of the state’s Sunshine Act that declares, “The General Assembly finds that the right  of the public to be present at all meetings of agencies and to witness the deliberation, policy formulation and decision making of agencies is vital to the enhancement and proper functioning of the democratic process and that secrecy in public affairs undermines the faith of the public in government and the public’s effectiveness in fulfilling its role in a democratic society.”

Although there may not be enough votes in the Republican caucus, there are more than enough votes to pass the bill in the Senate. In addition to 24 co-sponsors, an informal tally shows at least a half-dozen other senators will support the bill.

This is also bill the public supports. A statewide survey by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research a year ago revealed not only do more than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots, only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban. More than four-fifths of all Pennsylvanians say live pigeon shoots are animal cruelty. The bill is supported by the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies. Most Pennsylvania newspapers have editorialized against pigeon shoots.

So, why wasn’t the bill brought up for a third reading before the Senate adjourned in July? And why is it still on the table?

The answer is enmeshed in a web of politics. Fearing an NRA backlash, and perhaps not wishing to alienate any voters less than six weeks before an election, the Senate may have stalled the vote because of an intense lobbying effort by the NRA. On the day before the Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hear the bill for the first time, the Institute for Legislative Action, NRA’s lobbying arm, sent urgent alerts to Pennsylvania members and the legislature. The NRA leadership opposes bans on pigeon shoots, believing that to ban animal cruelty is the “slippery slope” to banning guns.

“That’s completely nonsense,” says Roy Afflerbach, a lifelong hunter, and former state senator and Allentown mayor.

Many in the Legislature cower in fear at receiving less than an “A+” rating from the NRA. In the Senate Judiciary committee, Sen. Richard Alloway (R), a long-time hunter and a vigorous gun-rights advocate, called pigeon shooting a “blood sport.” After an attack by the NRA, he said, “I find it laughable that my friends [at the NRA] would somehow label me anti-Second Amendment.” Sen. Daylin Leach (D), vice-chair of the judiciary committee, doesn’t worry about the NRA rating. “Pigeon shoots, says Leach, “are a barbaric relic of a long-ago past. Hunters are ashamed of it, and it’s time to stop the gratuitous cruelty that pigeon shoots represent.”

The NRA alert called pigeon shooters “law-abiding, ethical shooting enthusiasts.” However, undercover investigators have observed a large part of the lure of pigeon shoots is illegal gambling on how many birds each shooter will wound or kill. The alert also told legislators that opposition “does not come from within the Commonwealth, but from the outside,” targeting the Humane Society of the United States as the leader of the “animal ‘rights’ extremist groups.” However, the NRA is as much an “outside organization as HSUS; its headquarters is in Fairfax, Va.. Both NRA and HSUS have Pennsylvania field offices. All Pennsylvania humane organizations support HB1750. Humane PA PAC, which opposes the pigeon shoot, has 32,000 members, most of them Pennsylvanians.

There is another political land mine for the bill. Even if the Senate passes the bill, the House of Representatives, which had passed the bill without the pigeon shoot amendment, is a far more conservative body, and could likely hold up passage of the bill.

The last free-standing vote in the House occurred in 1994. Although the vote was 99-93 to ban the shoots, a majority of 102 votes was required. Later bills were scuttled, usually by leadership of both political parties.

Four years after the House failed to pass legislation to ban pigeon shoots, the state Supreme Court ruled that the Hegins Pigeon Shoot, held on public property, was not only cruel “but moronic.” The organizers grudgingly disbanded the annual Labor Day event, held from 1934 to 1998. The Court’s opinion did not extend to shoots at private clubs, all of which draw many of the participants and spectators from New Jersey, and are held in secret.

“The tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who have contacted their legislators, year after year, for decades, deserve a vote,” says Heidi Prescott. If the bill is brought to a vote, “it will pass,” she says.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist, has been covering Pennsylvania pigeon shoots for more than 20 years. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, and the author of 20 books. His current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the politics and economics behind fracking, and its impact on health, agriculture, and the environment. The book also investigates fracking’s effects upon animals.]

 

Pigeon Shoots: Pennsylvania’s Shame

As the state legislature reconvened today for a final eleven day wrap-up to the two year session several matters remain to be resolved.  Banning pigeon shoots and making the consumption of cats and dogs illegal aren’t at the top of most lists but the Humane Society brought it to their attention this morning.  At a rally in the Capital Rotunda six speakers decried the fact Pennsylvania is the only state still allowing these barbaric exercises in “sport.”

There is nothing sporting about shooting dazed and confused birds as they are released from crates onto the ground.  This isn’t hunting, it is target shooting and is cruel treatment of birds, many of which are left to die for days after these events.  Wing Pointe in Berks County is the last place still conducting these shoots.  Though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has deemed these as animal cruelty Berks DA John Adams refuses to enforce the law and bring charges.  Is that because Berks County Common Pleas Court Judge Adolph Antanavage has been filmed attending one of these events and caught shooting birds under a Confederate flag?

Here is what a pigeon shoot is like:

The only thing which should be dazed and confused are the members of the NRA who are opposing this bill.  For some crazy reason the NRA seems to think banning animal cruelty is an assault on gun rights.  Call your State Senator and State Representative and insist they vote to end this practice.  Bill 1750 has already passed the House as a bill to end the consumption of dogs and cats.  The Senate amended it to ban pigeon shoots so after it passes there it has to return tot he House for another vote.

For some reason Pennsylvania has never passed a law protecting cats and dogs from being used for human consumption.  At this morning’s event the Humane Society brought three kittens and a dog along for emphasis.  Perhaps the cats could have been used to hunt down the rats in the Capitol who would oppose this bill.

Today’s event:

Olympians Medal in London, While the NRA Meddles in Harrisburg

by WALTER BRASCH

Shortly before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on an amendment last December that would ban pigeon shoots, the Pennsylvania Flyers Association sent out a bulletin it marked as “urgent.”

“We must act now to preserve our sport,” the Flyers screeched. In a separate letter, the Flyers told its members they “should be very proud that your association has been able to keep the sport alive in PA [sic] for the last 27 years.” For added support, the notice referred to an NRA release, which called pigeon shooting a “Pennsylvania Sporting Tradition.”

Shooting live pigeons in a confined area isn’t a sport. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” The International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals, and continues to refuse to classify it as a “sport.” At that Olympics, the only time someone could earn a medal for cruelty, 300 birds were killed.

While 11,000 athletes from 205 countries continue to excel at the Olympics in London, 75 pretend hunters and faux sportsmen are at the Wing Pointe club near Hamburg, Pa., this weekend where they are shooting more than 10 times the number of pigeons killed at the 1900 Olympics.

Scared and undernourished, the birds are placed into small traps and then released 30 yards in front of people with shotguns. Most birds are hit as they are launched. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States.

If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off with shears, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. At Wing Pointe, birds are just thrown into a heap, with wounded birds left to die from suffocation. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police. At Wing Pointe, each shooter pays a $290 entry fee. According to the rules, each shooter “must play $200.00 anywhere.” Pigeon shooters and the public can gamble more than that, with the club taking a percentage of the “official” bets. A high stakes, invitation-only poker game adds to the opportunity to lose more than a month’s house mortgage.

Wing Pointe earns even more from its pro shop and from shooters and their guests who stay at its luxury suites it claims is “the perfect retreat after you have spent the day enjoying our Sports Shooting playground.”

The failure to ban pigeon shoots leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, can openly shoot pigeons which have just been released from the traps. The NRA claims pigeon shoots are legal in 35 states; however, because those states enforce animal cruelty laws, Pennsylvania is one of the only states that has openly held pigeon shoots. Pigeon shoots are held in southeastern Pennsylvania in Berks County at Wing Pointe, after the Strausstown Gun Club and the Pikeville Gun Club discontinued them; in Bucks County at the Philadelphia Gun Club, Bensalem; in Dauphin County at the Erdman Shoot; and in Northumberland County at a relatively unorganized Berm Gun Club, near Dalmatia. The notorious Hegins Pigeon Shoot, in which more than 5,000 birds were killed or injured every Labor Day weekend, was finally cancelled in 1999 after the state Supreme Court ruled that humane society police officers could arrest participants for committing acts of animal cruelty.

District Attorneys John Adams (Berks) and David Heckler (Bucks) have both refused to prosecute persons accused of cruelty by a Humane Society police officer. Johnna Seeton has filed charges of cruelty to animals in both counties and in all cases the DAs withdrew her charges. A mandamus case is pending against Adams to require him to comply with the law; in 2010, Adams took $500 in campaign donations from the NRA Political Victory Fund. An ethics complaint has been filed against Heckler.

Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty. But Pennsylvania legislators refuse to ban pigeon shoots, fearful of losing NRA campaign funds, the coveted A+ rating, and what could be a vicious attack upon their re-election bids. Even a grade of “B” by the NRA causes some legislators to cower in fear.

The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claims that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns and, thus, destroying the 2nd Amendment. To those scared by fear-mongers in the NRA and the Pennsylvania Flyers, that was bred solely to support pigeon shoots, the Humane Society-which the NRA calls “radical” and “extremist,” and the Flyers calls “animalist zealots”-carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments restricts firearms ownership or usage. However, a paranoid NRA leadership claims banning pigeon shoots would be the “slippery slope” to gun restrictions.

The NRA, says Prescott, misrepresents its members, “most of whom do not support or condone pigeon shoots.”

Pennsylvania allows lobbyists to call legislators off the floor to discuss legislation. NRA lobbyists and their PACs have been vigorous in “explaining” the consequences of a legislator who opposes the NRA philosophy-and in backing it up with campaign contributions. During the 2010 election year, the NRA Political Victory Fund donated $4,500 in direct contributions and $389,696.85 in in-kind contributions to Republican Tom Corbett, who would be elected governor.

But the NRA and its allies are now on the defensive, after taking hits by the public for their unyielding stand in support of the right of owning assault weapons with 100-round magazines, for which no hunter or target shooter has any need. Somehow, in a collective mind with scrambled brain cells, the NRA leadership is unable to distinguish between legitimate hunting and animal cruelty.

In Pennsylvania, the NRA is making a stand. Associating with just about the friendliest state for what it claims is “gun rights,” the NRA has dug in; it knows that if the state bans pigeon shoots, NRA influence will diminish. And so, it continues to pump out fear-mongering press releases, lobbies hard, and freely spreads what is known as the “mother’s milk of politics,” all to a group of legislators too afraid to oppose what they think is NRA strength.

This week, we see two conflicting scenes.

There are no cowards in the Olympics.

But there sure are enough in Wing Pointe and the Pennsylvania legislature.

[For the past 25 years, Walter Brasch has been covering pigeon shoots and the campaign to ban them as an inhumane practice. Dr. Brasch was recently honored with a lifetime achievement award by the Pennsylvania Press Club. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed social issues novel, Before the First Snow, that discusses animal rights, ant-war, the base for the anti-fracking protests, and other issues.]

           

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Override Humane Actions

by WALTER BRASCH

A national animal welfare organization has filed an ethics complaint against a Pennsylvania district attorney.

SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) charges Bucks County DA David Heckler with conflict-of-interest, favoritism, and failure to fulfill his professional responsibilities. The ethics charges were filed with the Disciplinary Board of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

SHARK, an Illinois-based charity, has been more active in Pennsylvania following a $1 million donation by Bob Barker to stop pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that has open and regularly occurring pigeon shoots.

The conflict-of-interest charges date from 2010 when Heckler refused to allow Johnna Seeton, a humane officer, to have an attorney and then blocked her from filing summary citations of animal cruelty against the Philadelphia Gun Club of Bensalem, Pa. “I showed him the evidence, and that’s the last I heard from him,” says Seeton. But it wasn’t the last of the case. “The next thing I know is that I read in the paper that Mr. Heckler had brokered a deal with the gun club,” she says. That deal was for the club to pay court costs and make a $200 donation to the Bucks County SPCA. Seeton was never consulted. Heckler, however, prior to working out a deal had gone to the media to denounce Seeton’s citations as nothing more than “hot air.”

The deal was worked out with Sean Corr, attorney for the PGC. Corr, says Steve Hindi of SHARK, “was one of the biggest individual donors to the Bucks County Republican Committee [which had] heavily funded Heckler’s election campaign.” Heckler had been a state representative and senator and then a judge of the Bucks County Common Pleas Court. Corr, who was shooting pigeons at the PGC in December 2009, was convicted of harassment for shoving a camera into Hindi’s face; Hindi was not on PGC property at the time of the incident, according to the Doylestown Intelligencer. Corr is currently a part-time solicitor for the county.

On April 30 of this year, Seeton filed five summary citations of animal cruelty against the PGC for violations during pigeon shoots on March 17 and 31. State law gives DAs the discretion to deny the presence of attorneys for plaintiffs. However, Heckler’s actions are the only time any DA denied Seeton, a humane officer since 1998, the right to have an attorney. Seeton says that a private attorney representing the Pennsylvania Legislature Animal Network (PLAN) would incur no public costs. As was the case in 2010, Heckler refused to tell Seeton the reason for his denial of legal representation.

“There is a reasonableness standard that a DA in denying attorney representation will have a bona fide reason to do so,” says Elissa Katz, an attorney and president of Humane PA PAC, “but in this case there appears to be no reasonable basis for denying representation.” The PGC, however, could be represented by an attorney in the court of District Magistrate Leonard Brown. Heckler’s action “places the parties on an unfair playing field from the beginning,” says Katz.

Heckler numerous times stated that although he isn’t a pigeon shooter, he is reluctant to pursue charges against pigeon shooting because it isn’t a crime in Pennsylvania. Tom Logan, a Bucks County assistant district attorney, says the reason the DA’s office is denying Seeton legal representation is because “a review of the law [indicates] it is not a crime. If it’s not a crime, we don’t want to turn it into a crime.”

However in Bensalem Twp., where the PGC is located, pigeon shooting is illegal. In May 2002, the township determined that “live pigeon shoots do, in fact, violate the Pennsylvania Animal Cruelty Statue . . . as well as Township Ordinance No. 71,” and issued a cease and desist order. The PGC briefly suspended the shoots. Karel Minor, executive director of the Humane Society of Berks County, says pigeon shoots, contrary to public perception and political gesturing, are already illegal. The shoots, says Minor, aren’t protected “under any statute, law or code.” Further, he says, “Because they aren’t exempt from animal cruelty law, they are subject to them by definition.”

However, the problem is enforcement. “As long as DAs aren’t allowing humane society police officers to enforce existing law, the legislature is going to have to stop avoiding the issue and clarify that this practice is illegal,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Leaders of the state legislature, cowered by a heavy NRA lobbying campaign that irrationally equates an end of the cruelty of pigeon shooting with a violation of Second Amendment rights, have numerous times blocked legislation from a full vote. The only time the bill was voted on as a free-standing bill was in the 1980s. Several attempts to amend it have been made over the past 20 years, the closest vote taking place in 1994, when the House voted 99-93 in favor of an amendment to ban pigeon shoots, but fell short of the 102 votes needed for passage.

Most of the 20-25 pigeon shoots are in suburban Philadelphia, specifically Bucks and Berks counties, with a combined population of more than one million. Individual shoots are also held in Dauphin and Northumberland counties. The Hegins pigeon shoot in Schuylkill County was finally cancelled in 2000 after the state Supreme Court ruled that animal cruelty charges could be filed against the organizers. That shoot, begun in 1935, had attracted national attention during its last 12 years when animal rights protestors tried to rescue wounded birds and used several tactics as they confronted shooters and their supporters, including large numbers of skinheads and fringe groups from the extreme right.

Pigeon shoot organizers put as many as 5,000 birds, often scared and undernourished, into small cages and then release them about 30 yards in front of pretend-hunters with 12-gauge shotguns. Most of the birds are hit by the shot within five to 10 feet of the cages, with many shot while standing on the ground. About three-fourths of all birds are wounded, not killed outright, says Prescott. If shot within the gun club’s property, trapper boys, often in their teens will take the birds, wring their necks, snip their heads off, or stuff them alive into barrels to suffocate. If the birds survive long enough to fly outside the gun club’s property, most will die lingering and painful deaths; at the PGC, many will fall into the Delaware River and slowly drown as they struggle to swim to shore, says Prescott.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t call pigeon shoots a sport nor does the International Olympic Committee, which banned it after the 1900 Olympics. Most hunters and sportsmen oppose pigeon shoots because they aren’t considered to be fair chase hunting.

SHARK also claims Heckler repeatedly refused to file charges against the PGC for actions that specifically violate Pennsylvania law. It claims Heckler refused to file charges against PGC members for deliberately firing shotgun shells at protesters in boats on the Delaware River. The PGC had initially filed requests with the Coast Guard to establish temporary exclusion zones on the river during pigeon shoots, but withdrew the requests. SHARK believes the reason is because the PGC didn’t wish to file an environmental impact statement that would reveal more than a century of shotgun shells and dead pigeons polluting the river.

The SHARK petition also claims that in two separate incidents PGC members recklessly drove their vehicles at female protestors. Both actions were captured on videotape. In one case, the local police and the DA’s office refused to press charges. In the second incident, a PGC member who is an attorney yelled sexist obscenities at a Marianne Bessey, an animal rights activist, “as he recklessly drove his SUV past her.” Later, in media interviews, the PGC member acknowledged his actions. However, when Bessey, an attorney, tried to file a private complaint for disorderly conduct and harassment, Heckler denied it. Bessey says Heckler claimed there was “insufficient evidence” and that her complaint lacked “prosecutorial merit.”

Heckler also refused to file charges against an individual who, SHARK claims, assaulted Hindi and brandished a pistol, threatening him for protesting. According to the petition, Robert Olsen, operations manager of Carlton Pools, owned by Joseph Solana who holds live pigeon shoots on his property, twice drove his SUV directly at a vehicle driven by Hindi on the company’s parking lot. The third time, according to the petition, on a public street, Olsen “grabbed at and assaulted” SHARK investigator Janet Enoch. When Hindi tried to intervene, Olsen pointed a loaded pistol at Hindi, swore at him, and ordered him to “get down on the ground,” according to the complaint. Although the assault was videotaped, Heckler filed only two charges-reckless driving and fighting. In contrast, according to SHARK, Heckler prosecuted a resident who “pulled a handgun on a snow plow operator who had just buried his car in the snow.” That charge led to a three month jail term.

Pigeon shoots, like cockfighting and dog fighting, “are contests scored by hurting and killing live animals while gambling on the outcome, representing the worst of humanity,” says Prescott.  

Although Pennsylvania legislators, police, and DAs may publically say how much they detest animal cruelty, they have shown their cowardice to do what is right by their failure to prosecute cruelty charges against pigeon shoots.

[Walter Brasch, an award-winning syndicated columnist, has shot at many clay pigeons but never at a live pigeon. He attended his first pigeon shoot as a reporter more than 20 years ago, and has been writing about the cruelty of pigeons shoots since then. He is the author of 17 books; his latest is the critically-acclaimed novel Before the First Snow.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

Pennsylvania Legislators Shoot Down Pigeons-Again

by Walter Brasch

If the first year gross anatomy class at the Penn State Hershey medical school needs spare body parts to study, they can visit the cloak room of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. That’s where most of the legislators left their spines.

The House voted 124-69, Dec. 13, to send an animal welfare bill back to committee, in this case the Gaming Oversight Committee. The bill, SB 71, would have banned simulcasting of greyhound races from other states. Pennsylvania had banned greyhound racing in 2004. Among several of the current bill’s amendments were ones that would also have banned the sale of cat and dog meat, increased penalties for releasing exotic animals, and stopped the cruelty of live pigeon shoots.

It’s the pigeon shoot amendment, sponsored by Rep. John Maher (R-Allegheny), that caused legislators to hide beneath their desks, apparently in fear of the poop from the NRA, which lobbied extensively against ending pigeon shoots. The unrelenting NRA message irrationally claimed that banning pigeon shoots is the first step to banning guns. The NRA even called the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) a radical animal rights group.

The House action leaves Pennsylvania as the only state where pretend hunters, most of them from New Jersey and surrounding states where pigeon shoots are illegal, to come to Pennsylvania and kill caged birds launched in front of spectators and the shooters.

Most pigeon shoots are held in Berks County in southeastern Pennsylvania, with one in the nearby suburban Philadelphia area. Scared and undernourished birds are placed into small cages, and then released about 20 yards in front of people with 12-gauge shotguns. Most birds, as many as 5,000 at an all-day shoot, are hit standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from the people who pretend to be sportsmen. Even standing only feet from their kill, the shooters aren’t as good as they think they are. About 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to Heidi Prescott, HSUS senior vice-president, who for about 25 years has been documenting and leading the effort to pass legislation to finally end pigeon shoots in the state.

Birds that fall outside the shooting club’s property are left to die long and horrible deaths. If the birds are wounded on the killing fields, trapper boys and girls, most in their early teens, some of them younger, grab the birds, wring their necks, stomp on their bodies, or throw them live into barrels to suffocate. There is no food or commercial value of a pigeon killed at one of the shoots.

The lure of pigeon shoots, in addition to what the participants must think is a wanton sense of fulfillment, is gambling, illegal under Pennsylvania law but not enforced by the Pennsylvania State Police.

The International Olympic Committee banned the so-called sport after the 1900 Olympics because of its cruelty to animals. Most hunters, as well as the Pennsylvania Game Commission, say that pigeon shoots aren’t “fair chase hunting.” Almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, oppose this form of animal cruelty.

On the floor of the House, Rep. Rosita C. Youngblood (D-Philadelphia), usually a supporter of animal rights issues, spoke out against voting on the bill, and asked other Democrats to go along with her. Youngblood is minority chair of the Gaming Oversight committee.

Youngblood’s chief of staff, Bill Thomas, emphasizes that Youngblood’s only concern was to protect the integrity of the legislative process. Although some members truly believed they voted to recommit the bill for procedural reasons, most members were just simply afraid to vote on the bill. Voting to recommit the bill were 52 Democrats, many of them opposed to pigeon shoots; 35 voted to keep it on the floor for debate. Among Republicans, the vote was 72-34 to send the bill to committee.

The Arguments

Germaneness: The Republican leadership had determined that all amendments to bills  in the current legislative session must be germane to the bill. “You can’t hijack a bill,” many in the House, including key Democrats, claimed as the major reason they voted against SB71.

However, the Republicans, with a majority in the House and able to block any bill in committee that didn’t meet their strict political agenda, raised “germaneness” to a level never before seen in the House. For decades, Democrats and Republicans attached completely unrelated amendments to bills. Even during this session, the Republicans, in violation of their own “rules,” attached amendments to allow school vouchers onto several bills, many that had nothing to do with education. But, the Greyhound racing bill was considered under both gambling and animal cruelty concerns. Thus, the amendment to ban pigeon shoots could also be considered to be an animal cruelty amendment and not subject to the Judiciary Committee, where it was likely to die.

Separate bill. Several legislators believed the attempt to stop pigeon shoots should have been its own bill, not tacked onto another bill.

However, only twice have bills about pigeon shoots come to the floor of the House. Most proposed legislation had been buried in committees or blocked by House leadership, both Democrat and Republican, most of whom received support and funding from the NRA, gun owner groups, and their political action committees (PACs). In 1989, the Pennsylvania House had defeated a bill to ban pigeon shoots, 66-126. By 1994, three years after the first large scale protest, the House voted 99-93 in favor of an amendment to ban pigeon shoots, but fell short of the 102 votes needed for passage.

The bill would duplicate or repeal a recently-signed law:

Rep. Curt Schroeder (R-Chester Co.), chair of the Gaming Oversight committee, sponsored the House version of the Senate’s bill. If it was truly an unnecessary bill, he or the leadership could have previously sent it to committee for reworking or killed it. According to sources close to the leadership, despite his concern for animal welfare, Schroeder was not pleased about the amendments tacked onto his bill.

Short time to accomplish much: Several Democrats believed that by spending extraordinary time on the bill, necessary legislation would not be brought to the floor and the Republicans could then blame the Democrats for blocking key legislation.

However, both parties already knew how they would vote for redistricting (the Republicans had gerrymandered the state to protect certain districts), school vouchers, and other proposed legislation.  Further, the Republican leadership could have blocked putting the Greyhound bill into the agenda or placed it at the end of other bills. Even on the floor of the House, the leadership could have shut down debate at any time. Thus, the Democrats’ argument about “only four days left” is blunted by the Republicans’ own actions. During 2011, the House met only 54 days when the vote on SB 71 was taken. If the House was so concerned about having only four days left in the year to discuss and vote upon critical issues, it could have added days to the work week or increased hours while in session. Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny), to his credit, wanted a vote, although he personally opposed the pigeon shoot amendment. “Let’s put this issue to rest,” he told the members. Taking the time to debate the bill, says Bill Thomas, “wasted taxpayer money and time.” However, “the amount of time spent avoiding the bill,” counters Prescott, “wastes far more time and resources than voting on it.”

Nevertheless, no matter what the arguments, sending the bill to committee was a good way to avoid having to deal with a highly controversial issue. It allowed many legislators to pretend to their constituents that they still believe in animal welfare, while avoiding getting blow-back from the NRA or its supporters. Conversely, it allowed many of those who wanted to keep pigeon shoots to avoid a debate and subsequent vote, allowing continued support from pro-gun constituents who accept the NRA non-logic, while not offending constituents who believe in animal welfare.

Whatever their reasons, the failure of the many of the state’s representatives to stand up for their convictions probably caused legislation to ban this form of animal cruelty to be as dead during this session as the pigeons whose necks are wrung by teenagers who finish the kill by people who think they’re sportsmen but are little more than juveniles disguised in the bodies of adults.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated social issues columnist, former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor, whose specialties included public affairs/investigative reporting. He is professor emeritus of journalism. Dr. Brasch’s latest novel is Before the First Snow, a story of the counterculture and set in rural Pennsylvania.]

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

Latest Book: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

(www.greeleyandstone.com)

www.walterbrasch.com

www.walterbrasch.blogspot.com

www.facebook.com/walterbrasch

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…

 

Scratches on the Blackboard of Animal Cruelty

by Walter Brasch

Take a pigeon.

         Now put that pigeon, along with thousands of others, into small coops that don’t give the bird much freedom to move.

         Don’t worry about food or water. It won’t matter.

         Take some of the pigeons-who are already disoriented from hours, maybe days, of confinement-and place a couple of them each into spring-loaded box traps on a field.

         About 20 yards behind the traps have people with 12-gauge shotguns line up.

         Release the pigeons and watch juveniles disguised in the bodies of adults shoot these non-threatening birds. Most of the birds will be shot five to ten feet from the traps; many, dazed and confused, are shot while standing on the ground or on the tops of cages. Each shooter will have the opportunity to shoot at 25 birds, five birds each in five separate rounds.

         About a fourth of the birds will be killed outright. Most of the rest will be wounded. Teenagers will race onto the fields and grab most of the wounded birds. They will wring their necks or stuff them still alive into barrels to die from suffocation.

         Some birds will be able to fly outside the killing field, only to die a slow and painful death in nearby yards, roofs, or rivers. A few will live.

         Now, do it again. And again. And again. All day long. At the “state shoot” in Berks County, about 5,000 birds were launched from 27 boxes on three killing fields.

         And, just to make sure that you’re a macho macho man, why not stuff a bird onto a plastic fork and parade around the grounds? How about wearing a T-shirt with language so nauseating that even Cable TV would have to blur the message.

         By the way, make sure you collect your bets. Illegal gambling, along with excessive drinking, is also a part of this charade that poses as sport. The shooters don’t make much, but thousands of dollars will exchange hands.

These are the same psychopaths who probably twirled cats by their tails, and used birthday money to buy BB guns to pluck birds from fences and telephone wires. In their warped minds, they probably think they’re Rambo, their shotguns are M-16s, the cages are bunkers, and the cooing birds are agents of Kaos, Maxwell Smart’s long-time nemesis.

This is what the NRA is defending as Americans’ Second Amendment rights. And why the Pennsylvania legislature has been afraid to pass a bill prohibiting pigeon shoots.

For more than three decades, Pennsylvanians have tried to get this practice banned. For three decades, they have failed. And when it looked as if there was even a remote chance that a slim majority of legislators might support a bill banning pigeon shoots, the House and Senate leadership, most of them from rural Pennsylvania, figured out numerous ways to lock up the bills in committees or keep them from reaching the floor for a vote. In 1994, the House did vote, 99-93, to ban pigeon shoots. But 102 votes were needed.

But now a bill to ban this form of animal cruelty may be headed for a vote in the full legislature. SB626, sponsored by Sen. Patrick Browne (R-Allentown), forbids the “use of live animals or fowl for targets at trap shoots or block shoot” gatherings. It specifically allows fair-chase hunting and protects Second Amendment rights.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee finally got a spine, and voted 11-3 to send legislation to the full Senate to ban this practice. Six Republicans and five Democrats voted for the vote; all three negative votes were from Republicans, including the Senate’s president pro-tempore. Many of those voting for the ban are lifetime hunters; many are long-time NRA members. They all agree that this is not fair chase hunting but wanton animal cruelty.

But, the NRA, with its paranoid personality that believes banning animal cruelty would lead to banning guns, fired back. In a vicious letter to its members and the media, the NRA stated that national animal rights extremists, whom they have also called radicals, are trying to ban what they call a “longstanding traditional shooting sport.”

         The International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC) disagree. In 1900, the IOC banned pigeon shoots as cruelty to animals and ruled it was not a sport. The PGC says that pigeon shoots “are not what we would classify as fair-chase hunting.” Also opposed to pigeon shoots are dozens of apparently other radical extremists-like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, and the Pennsylvania Bar Association. “Each pigeon shoot teaches children that violence and animal cruelty are acceptable practices,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president for the HSUS.

The vote will be close in both chambers, mostly because of the financial power the NRA wields in the rural parts of Pennsylvania, and the NRA’s fingernails-on-the-blackboard screeches to its members. On his blog, Sen. Daylin Leach (D-King of Prussia), a member of the Judiciary committee, wrote that when he supported a ban on pigeon shoots in previous Legislative sessions, he “got more hate mail on this than any other issue I’ve been involved with.” He stated he “got e-mails from all over the state telling me that I obviously hated America and that God, who wanted the pigeons he created to be slaughtered as quickly as possible, was very disappointed in me.”

         Failure to pass this bill into law will continue to make Pennsylvania, with a long-established hunting culture, the only state where pigeon shoots openly occur, and where animal cruelty is accepted.

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning reporter who attended several pigeon shoots. His next book is Before the First Snow, a look at America’s counter-culture and the nation’s conflicts between oil-based and “clean” nuclear energy. The book is available at amazon.com]

 

News & Notes January 25, 2011

Berks County Democrats finally got around to selecting a candidate for the special election.  Four days later, in a painfully short campaign window, there remain no materials, office for phone banking, staff on the ground or website.  With three weeks to prepare this is a bad stumble out of the gate.  

I was just on a White House call concerning tonight’s State of the Union Address.  I cannot comment on the content until the speech (embargo rules are in effect) but I will later.  Barack Obama, however, is going to embrace more items from the Republican agenda.  He may as well just go change his voter registration to the GOP and be done with it.  I didn’t get to ask my question about Social Security but I did email the White House for a response.  If he calls for cutting our safety net be sure to take a good, long drink.  You’ll need it.

We commented last year how Ed Rendell was losing staff to the gas drilling industry and now DEP is seeing a migration.  Since DEP was, essentially, in bed with Marcellus Shale drillers this is no surprise.  Expect a bombshell report to be published soon exploding this issue.  It will be very bad for the DEP under Gov. Rendell.

The Inquirer keeps exposing the lack of regulation and oversight which led to the back alley butcher in West Philadelphia killing babies and patients.  This is what happens when you restrict women’s access to reproductive services.  We saw it before Roe v. Wade and we’re seeing it now with all the restrictions to access.  Republicans in Harrisburg are planning to introduce legislation banning abortion in the new health care exchanges.  This will only create more Dr. Gosnells and kill more women.  I thought these folks were “pro life?”  We must expand coverage for abortion and insure safe, legal procedures in sanitary clinics staffed by licensed, competent medical professionals.

There is little new information about the demise of Keith Olbermann at MSNBC.  It does seem the pending takeover by Comcast was significant however.  This is what happens with total corporate control of the media.  So much for that mythical “liberal control of the media” lie.  I hope Keith lands on Sirius/XM or other national radio outlet.  He should have his own channel there though its reach would never match that on cable TV.  Vote with your clicker: stop watching MSNBC.  This is one thing they’ll comprehend:  ratings.

Meanwhile NBC has hired Ed Rendell.  Please tell me we aren’t going to see the former Guv on MSNBC instead of Keith???

The “Texas Miracle” touted as a model by Republicans only to be revealed as a $27 billion budget deficit, is slowly crashing to the ground.  The black hole created by Gov. Rick Perry means a California sized crisis.  Now, after denouncing government bailouts during his re-election campaign Perry wants President Obama to bail him out.

Speaking of Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison announced she won’t seek re-election next year.  Targeted by Tea baggers in the gubernatorial primary she would be primaried by the Republican fringe.  She bailed out instead.

For all you animal lovers and rights people you have an opportunity this week.  Berks County DA who supports the shooting and torture of pigeons, will be making his re-election announcement Thursday evening at 6 Pm at the FOP Social Club 776 Mt Laurel Ave, Temple, PA, 19560.  Come and protest.

Sen. Anthony Williams spoke to the PA School Boards Association and left rather unhappy.  The champion of privatizing public schools took $4 million from charter schools impresarios for his Governor campaign last year.  No wonder the PSBA didn’t like the guy!  Is he clueless or what?

Planned Parenthood has asked the FBI to investigate a man who is attempting to trap employees into giving him information for treating sex workers.  It sounds like Andrew Breitbart is at it again.

Planned Parenthood, a perennial protest target because of its role in providing abortions, has notified the FBI that at least 12 of its health centers were visited recently by a man purporting to be a sex trafficker but who may instead be part of an attempted ruse to entrap clinic employees.

Disclosure:  I am a Board member of Planned Parenthood Association of Pennsylvania, Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, and Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania PAC.

Hunting for Courageous Legislators: Pennsylvania Continues to Lead the Nation in Animal Cruelty

by Walter Brasch

           Twenty minutes South of Harrisburg, Pa., on a two hour drive to her home near Gaithersburg, Md., Heidi Prescott shed a tear. No one else saw it, only one other person could hear it in her voice. It was about 9 p.m., Tuesday, June 29.

           Prescott, senior vice-president of campaigns for the 11-million member Humane Society of the United States, values her reputation as a compassionate but tough lobbyist, but more than two decades of grief and hope was in that tear. For five straight days, she had driven to the Capitol; this would be the week, she was led to believe by the House leadership, that the Legislature would finally bring forth a vote to ban live pigeon shoots. But, in a late night deal, the Legislature had come to a decision about the next year’s budget, and that meant it would recess before voting on the bill to ban pigeon shoots.

           Every Tuesday, when the Pennsylvania legislature is in session, Prescott spends five to 10 hours working the 50 state senators and 203 representatives, every one of whom she knows by name and by their political beliefs. She seldom eats, rushing from office to office, sitting, waiting, and talking. To staff. To elected officials. To anyone who will listen.

           With logic and facts, Prescott, who has been to more than 50 shoots, explains that placing scared and undernourished birds into a small cage, and then releasing them only 20 yards in front people with 12-gauge shotguns is not only cruel but not a sport. She explains that most of the birds, sometimes as many as 5,000 at a shoot, are hit by the shot within five to 10 feet of the cages, with many shot while standing on the ground or on the cages themselves. She gives names of life-long Pennsylvania hunters who oppose pigeon shoots because they aren’t “fair chase hunting,” and emphasizes that even the Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn’t call pigeon shoots a sport. She tells everyone she talks with that the International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots as cruel and inhumane after its only appearance in the 1900 Olympics. She tells stories of underage drinking and illegal gambling at the shoots. She almost tears up when she tells about a spectator at one shoot who stomped on a live bird after he ripped it from her hand. She cites statistics that show that 70 percent of all birds aren’t killed by the first shotgun blast, but are wounded, many left to die in agony over two or three days if they aren’t first picked up by paid trapper boys, some as young as eight years of age, who wring their necks, stomp on their nearly dead bodies, or stuff them live into barrels to suffocate.

           Spectators ripping the heads of live birds, throwing them in the air like footballs, and impaling live birds on plastic forks are not normal activities, she points out. To emphasize the widespread opposition to pigeon shoots, Prescott points out that more than 80 percent of all Pennsylvanians oppose the pigeon shoot, and explains why almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, have formally opposed this form of animal cruelty. But most of all, she tries to embarrass the legislature by pointing out that Pennsylvania is the only state that allows people to openly kill live pigeons in organized contests, and that most of the shooters come to Pennsylvania because they would be arrested in their home states if they participated in pigeon shoots. Each pigeon shoot, she says, teaches children that violence and animal cruelty are acceptable practices.  

Deliberate and patient, Prescott counters several arguments by legislators. To those who believe bans should be local options not the function of the state, Prescott points to innumerable legal precedents that allow the state to act, and that if local jurisdictions were allowed to make such laws, there would be a patchwork of conflicting local ordinances. To those who believe pigeons are merely “winged rats,” and that the shoots get rid of vermin, she explains that all life is sacred, but that most of the pigeons are either captured out of state or are bred specifically to be killed. To those scared by fear-mongers in the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a couple of organizations that were bred solely to support pigeon shoots and who believe that banning pigeon shoots infringes upon the 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms, Prescott carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments would restrict firearms ownership or usage. The NRA, says Prescott, has misrepresented its members, “most of whom would never support or condone pigeon shoots.” Some say that banning pigeon shoots would be the “slippery slope” to gun restrictions. “Some representatives and senators are just dense,” she sighs.

           Prescott and her 40-person staff have been at the forefront of animal rights, persuading numerous designers and retail chains to stop selling fur, convincing all states to stop cock fighting, pushing 10 states to either ban or modify rules on puppy mills, and exposing animal cruelty in the cattle industry and the secret world of dog fighting. Normally, Prescott wouldn’t be “working” the Pennsylvania legislature, but she has taken a personal interest in Pennsylvania and in its failure to ban live pigeon shoots.

            Prescott grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and moved to Pennsylvania when she became a student at Edinboro State College (now Edinboro University). After earning  a B.A. in psychology, with a focus upon domestic violence, and an M.F.A. in art, Prescott and her husband of two years moved to the Washington, D.C., area so she could began a career as an artist. In college she was a vegetarian, but not active in animal rights issues. A mortally wounded woodpecker changed that.

           Her husband, Jim, brought the bird home. “I didn’t know what to do,” she recalls. What she did was to call several places to get assistance. “I demanded to know what I should do, where I should go,” she says. The answers she got weren’t satisfactory and the bird died the next morning. However, all her calls led her to finding a wildlife rehabilitator. For three years, she apprenticed with the rehabilitator; for five years, she mixed careers as a professional artist and certified animal rehabilitator. “I took way too many animals,” she says, “because when you say ‘No’ to helping any animal, it gets euthanized.” At times, she had dozens of birds, squirrels, bunnies, and possums in her townhouse. She readily acknowledges that her devotion to animal rescue put a strain upon her marriage. She and Jim divorced after six years.

           In 1989, Prescott stopped being a professional artist and became a professional animal rights advocate and began working 60-80 hour weeks-when she wasn’t arrested.

           In Strausstown, Pa., she was arrested when she tried to save a wounded pigeon. In Pikeville, Pa., she was arrested for walking across the street to hand a press release to a reporter. And then there was Hegins, site of the nation’s largest pigeon shoot, one that brought more than 200 shooters and several hundred paying spectators every Labor Day to the isolated rural community in northeast Pennsylvania to watch the killing of more than 5,000 birds. She attended the shoot in 1990, and then went back with a team of rehabilitators the next day. It was that day she knew that eliminating pigeon shoots would be her cause. She picked up a bird lying on the field, turned her over and realized she was gasping for air. Both of her legs had been blown off and she was in the final stage of dying. The team was forced to euthanize her. “It was just that act of her struggle to live and then her dying in my hands,” says Prescott, “when I made that promise to do everything I could do to stop this cruelty.”

           Several animal rights groups, led by Prescott, launched massive protests in 1991 and 1992, including running onto the shooting fields to rescue the birds, and chaining themselves to concrete blocks and fences. Prescott was one of the rescuers who ran onto the fields to open cages to free the birds, “knowing they would not be shot.” Twice she served 15 days in the Schuylkill County jail for trespassing, theft, and the receipt of stolen property-she had picked up wounded birds from the shooting fields. She could have paid the $500 fines, but chose jail because “I wasn’t about to give that county even one dollar.”

           Confrontational protests, which had succeeded in bringing media attention to mankind’s cruelty, were abandoned in 1993 in favor of a bird rescue program. “Most of the public’s attention was on the confrontation instead of the horror of what was happening to the animals,” says Prescott, “and we wanted to refocus the attention upon the cruelty.” In a statement to the Court for one incident, Prescott explained her philosophy of life. “I did not physically strike, obstruct, yell at, or insult anyone with whom I communicated,” she said without bitterness.

           In 1989, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives had defeated a bill to ban pigeon shoots, 66-126. By 1994, three years after the first large scale protest, the House voted 99-93 in favor of an amendment to ban pigeon shoots, but fell short of the 102 votes needed for passage. That was the last time the full House voted on any bill or amendment to stop pigeon shoots.

           Cowered by the perceived power of the NRA, which has about one-third the membership of the Humane Society-and only 200,000 members in Pennsylvania against 670,000 Pennsylvanians in the Humane Society-House and Senate leaders of both parties, primarily from the rural areas, continuously blocked bills from getting out of Committee and onto the floor for a vote.

           In the 21 years since she first began protesting pigeon shoots, Prescott has been cursed, shoved, poked, hit, slammed against a car, and had boot-clad spectators deliberately step upon her sneakered feet. A pacifist, she never resisted. But the greatest wounds, she says, were the lies she was told by legislators who promised what they would never deliver-a vote to ban pigeon shoots. “Their lies and distortions caused a waste of resources and time, and led to thousands more animals who suffered cruel deaths each year,” says Prescott.

           “It’s time for the Pennsylvania legislature to stop playing politics,” she says. Shortly after the House reconvenes on Sept. 13, Prescott hopes she will shed yet another tear, this time one of joy, as a majority of the House and Senate develop a spine and resist the prattling of a minority of self-proclaimed “sportsmen” and of national organizations that help fund their campaigns, and do what’s right, what every other state has done-stop the cruelty of pigeon shoots. “The only place this bill seems to be controversial is within the walls of the Capitol,” says Prescott.

           “I know how close we are, and if we give up now,” she says, “we will never fully appreciate the strength and courage of the animals that lay dying in my hands because of the cruelty of mankind. It’s an image of life I can not live with, and giving up now is unthinkable.”

[Walter Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and author of 17 books. He first reported on pigeon shoots in 1990, and has covered them and the Pennsylvania legislature since. You may contact Dr. Brasch at brasch@bloomu.edu]

SHAMELESS: DA Refuses to Prosecute Animal Cruelty Case

 

Pennsylvania Only State to Permit Live Pigeon Shoots

by Walter Brasch

     A Pennsylvania district attorney took campaign funds from an organization which promotes killing live pigeons in contests, and then refused to allow the prosecution of animal cruelty charges against a gun club that hosts pigeon shooting contests.

     DA John T. Adams of Berks County accepted $500 campaign contributions from the Flyers Victory Fund in August 2008 and August 2009, according to campaign finance reports issued by both the Pennsylvania Department of State and the Berks County Registrar of Voters.

     Johnna Seeton, a certified humane society police officer for the Pennsylvania Legislative Animal Network (PLAN), says she documented what she believed were acts of animal cruelty at a pigeon shoot on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009, sponsored by the Pike Township Sportsman’s Association near Oley, about 55 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Seeton had gone to the shoot, but had to watch the killings from public roads and driveways of nearby residents who had given her permission.

     Typically, at a pigeon shoot, one bird is confined to a small box about 25-30 yards in front of the firing line. The birds are released from the spring-loaded boxes known as “traps,” and the shooter fires at five separately released birds in five separate rounds, as if firing at clay pigeons in a trap or skeet shoot. Each shooter tries to kill a total of 25 birds, each falling within a designated circle, for a perfect score. The birds, when first released from the boxes, are often dazed and confused, sometimes by lack of adequate nutrition or confinement in small cages before the shoot and within the closed box during the shoot. As many as three-fourths of all birds, according to investigators from the Humane Society of the United States, are not killed instantly, but are wounded, usually to die slow and painful deaths. At the Pikeville shoot were two separate fields, each with nine boxes that were refilled during the day. About 1,000-1,500 birds became targets. At the “state shoot” on Feb. 20 and 21, about 75-90 persons fired shotgun pellets at about 5,000 birds that were released from 27 boxes on three separate shooting fields.  

The wounded or dead birds are picked up by trapper boys and girls, usually 12-16 years old, put into nets and taken to a shed, where their heads are cut off with shears. Sometimes, the trappers just wring their necks, sometimes hours after the bird is wounded. Even then, many live long enough to suffocate from being thrown into barrels. The carcasses are usually thrown into the garbage. Although most pigeon shooters claim they are ridding the state of “vermin,” calling them “winged rats,” the reality is that most of the birds are raised to be shot, captured, or brought in from out of state specifically for the shoots. The largest broker for pigeon shoots lives in Strausstown, Pa., about 30 miles northwest of Oley.

The shooters, who must be at least 12 years old, pay entry fees; many of them place illegal side bets. Drinking is common at pigeon shoots.

     Pennsylvania is the only state where live pigeon shoots are still openly practiced. “Live pigeon shoots are similar to cockfighting or dog fighting, where it is largely an underground circuit of the same people who follow it around,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the 11.6 million member Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). The Pennsylvania Council of Churches, in opposing pigeon shoots, declared, “[T]he use of live animals for target practice in a contest does not honor the integrity of God’s good creation.”

Johnna Seeton says she returned to the Pike Township site two days after the pigeon shoot, and found live wounded birds, which she took to a veterinarian for treatment. “Some had to be euthanized because of extensive injuries,” she says. Necropsies showed that pellets had hit vital organs, but the birds lived, often in extreme pain, for as many as two days. Birds that fall outside club property typically die from the pellets hitting vital organs, broken bones, internal hemorrhaging, nerve damage, or from infection, starvation, dehydration, or external parasite attacks. Seeton says she was able to rescue some because they fell onto public property. She had no legal authority to rescue the dying birds on the club’s private property.

     Seeton had filed three separate animal cruelty citations with District Judge Victor Frederick IV on Dec. 10, 2009, against the Pike Township Sportsmen’s Association, charging it with animal cruelty. Four days later, she says Adams called her, said that he reviewed the charges, and said he would not allow her to prosecute the case, nor would he allow anyone else to prosecute the case.

      In a 20 minute conversation, the DA demanded Seeton withdraw charges, citing what he believed were court precedents that would prohibit the filing of charges against organizers of pigeon shoots. Gordon Einhorn, Harrisburg, attorney, for the Pennsylvania Legislative Animal Network, then contacted Adams to try to understand why the DA wouldn’t allow the complaint, and to explain Pennsylvania law and relevant precedent. “It was somewhat of a heated discussion,” says Einhorn.

     Adams says the law “is quite specific that pigeon shoots do not constitute cruelty to animals and that organizers of pigeon shoots do not have to have a veterinarian to care for wounded birds.”  Adams, who is not a hunter, says he has no position about pigeon shoots, but that, “Although I sympathize with [those who oppose the pigeon shoots], their anger is misplaced; they must contact the Legislature” for recourse. Adams says his office can “only enforce the law; we cannot make it.” Adams, says Seeton, said that his decision not to allow prosecution and allow the court or a jury to determine the merits of the case, was final. “I wasn’t challenging the legality of pigeon shoots,” says Seeton, “only the animal cruelty for allowing wounded birds to die slow painful deaths.” On Jan. 13, 2010, in response to Adams’ demands, DJ Victor Frederick refused to allow Seeton to proceed with her charges. He withdrew the charges in front of an assistant district attorney.

     To support his refusal to allow prosecution of the animal cruelty complaint, Adams cites a decision in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas in April 2002 [Seeton v. Pike Township Sportsmen’s Association], which he says established that pigeon shoots are legal, and that recourse is through legislation. However, the ruling by Common Pleas Court Judge Scott E. Lash wasn’t a decision, but only a judicial memorandum to a motion for a preliminary injunction, and was not based upon evidence presented in trial. The Memorandum was the result of an appeal of a decision two months earlier. The opinion by Judge Lash was rendered before the Plaintiff had the opportunity to conduct discovery, present evidence, and examine witnesses. Because the case is still pending, and never received a final judgment, it cannot be used as legal precedent, says Einhorn. In that Memorandum, Judge Lash, who several times referred to any individual shooting at birds in a pigeon shoot as a “sportsman,” determined that there was no intent to wound birds and, thus, not a violation of the state law. He cited an 1891 case [Commonwealth v. Lewis] in which the appellant judge ruled that “the defendant has merely been punished for want of skill” by only wounding, not killing, pigeons at a shoot at the Philadelphia Gun Club in Eddington, Bucks County. That appeal had reversed a trial court case four years earlier, in which Judge Harman Yerkes had called pigeon shooting “cruel and barbarous” and a violation of animal abuse statute. However, in that reversal, the presiding judge ruled that there was no animal cruelty because the wounded bird was immediately killed.

     An 1860 state law declared that animal cruelty is an “offense against pubic morals and decency.” However, Adams claims that pigeon shoots do not constitute a violation of Title 18, section 5511(c), the Cruelty to Animals statute. That statute, within the Pennsylvania Crimes Code, states that a person  is guilty of animal cruelty if he or she “wantonly or cruelly ill treats, overloads, beats, otherwise abuses any animal, or neglects any animal as to which he has a duty of care, whether belonging to himself or otherwise, or abandons any animal, or deprives any animal of necessary sustenance, drink, shelter or veterinary care, or access to clean and sanitary shelter which will protect the animal against inclement weather and preserve the animal’s body heat and keep it dry.” Seeton says the Pike Township Sportsmen’s Association violated several provisions of that statute. The penalty for animal cruelty, a summary offense, is a fine of $50-$750 and/or up to 90 days in jail.

In 1980, the Court of Common Pleas for Monroe County ruled that persons are in violation of the animal cruelty statute if they fail to assist an animal when they “know or reasonably should know that [they have] conceivably injured [the animal.” [Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Fabian]. In 1995, the Pennsylvania Superior Court determined that the manner in which injured pigeons are treated  could constitute a violation of the Animal Abuse law [Mohler v. Labor Day Committee]. A Pennsylvania Superior Court decision in 2003 established that persons violate the animal cruelty statute when they commit “acts or conduct which cause pain and suffering [including] acts of omission, neglect, and the like, whereby the same kind of suffering is caused or permitted [and are] done recklessly and without regard to the consequences.” [Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. Simpson].

     Seeton’s charges are that the birds are usually neglected and left wounded for long periods of time. Under existing animal cruelty law, says Einhorn, “it is clear that pigeons are covered.” Nevertheless, Judge Lash in his Memorandum had determined, possibly against existing state law, that the presence of a veterinarian to treat wounded birds or to humanely euthanize those who had no hope of recovery was “impractical,” “unworkable,” and its cost was “prohibitive.”

     The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Hulsizer v. Labor Day Committee (1999), specifically noted that at the pigeon shoot in Hegins in Schuylkill County, at that time the largest in the nation, pigeons suffered slow and painful deaths and that severely wounded birds were not given veterinary care nor were euthanized in a humane method. The Court stated the Plaintiff’s view that pigeon shoots are “cruel and moronic.” The Court did not specifically rule that pigeon shoots were illegal. However, the Court set precedent by deciding that humane society officers had authority to pursue abuse charges against all state pigeon shoots.          

     Although the district attorney of Berks County refused to allow prosecution of animal cruelty charges, Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico, whose jurisdiction includes the state capital of Harrisburg, had no similar problem with the intent of the state’s animal cruelty laws. On March 11, in the court of District Justice Rebecca Margarum of Elizabethville, Seeton filed 23 separate charges against the Erdman Sportsmen’s Association for a pigeon shoot on June 7, 2009. She cited violation of section 5511(c), the same section she used in her complaint against the Pikeville club. Marsico, says Seeton, “not only allowed the filing but also supported it.”

       Over the past two decades, several bills to ban pigeon shoots have been written by state legislators; none have passed. The House of Representatives in 1994 voted 99-93 to ban the shoot, but needed 102 votes for passage. Several other attempts to ban pigeon shoots have been blocked by House or Senate leadership or were allowed to die in committees. Forty-seven current state senators and representatives, between 2004 and the end of 2009, received $45,685 in campaign funds from the Flyers Victory Fund and the NRA Political Victory Fund, according to records of the Pennsylvania Department of State. During those years, the Flyers and the NRA campaign committees donated a total of $62,394 to 64 candidates or legislators. Rep. John M. Perzel (R-Philadelphia), House speaker from April 2003 to January 2007, received $3,500 from the NRA Political Victory Fund in 2005 and 2006. The 14 current House and Senate leaders received $14,500. H. William DeWeese (D-Greene, and parts of Fayette and Washington counties) received $9,000 from the NRA Political Victory Fund; DeWeese was House speaker 1993-1994, Democratic leader 1995-2006 and majority leader, 2007-2008. Both Perzel and DeWeese have been instrumental in blocking legislation to prohibit live pigeon shoots.

     The current bills [H.R. 1411 and S.B. 843] are stalled in committee. Despite strong co-sponsor support, bills to ban live pigeon shoots have not received a vote in more than a decade, although leaders in both the House and the Senate have repeatedly promised to bring it to the floor. “This bill is an imaginary boogieman in the minds of a few legislators,” says Heidi Prescott of the HSUS. She believes “no legislator is going to lose their job for voting to end a very cruel practice with only a handful of supporters.” The cost to the Commonwealth, says Prescott “is probably a lot more to block the bill than to finally get rid of this very cruel, pitiless practice.” Prescott has been personally active for more than 20 years in her opposition to what she calls “barbaric and cruel,” but which crowds who attend pigeon shoots believe is “entertainment,” and the shooters call a “sport.”

     Killing trapped pigeons isn’t a sport, according to the International Olympic Committee, which banned pigeon shooting after its only appearance in the 1900 Olympics. The reason why pigeon shooting isn’t recognized as a sport was best explained by the IOC. “It’s cruelty,” it said after thinking about the Olympics’ only bloody “sport.” Great Britain banned live pigeon shoots it in 1921, and most countries now ban the practice. Jerry Feaser, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission, agrees that pigeon shooting isn’t sport. Pigeon shoots, he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in December 2007, “are not what we would classify as fair-chase hunting,” nor are pigeons considered to be wild animals. In the Seeton v. Pike Township Sportsmen’s Association case, the Court had thrown out the Defendant’s argument that the “hunting exception” to the animal cruelty statute was an acceptable defense against animal cruelty. Four years later, in Covington Township v. Moscow Sportsmen’s Club, the Court of Common Pleas for Lackawanna County granted a preliminary injunction requested by township officials, and reaffirmed the belief that pigeons are not “game birds,” and did not fall within the hunting exception to the statute. Former State Sen. Roy Afflerbach, a lifelong sportsman who began hunting as a child, and who introduced the first Senate bill to prohibit live pigeon shoots, says “launching birds or animals from traps in front of awaiting shooters, who wound more animals than they kill, is not hunting; the hunters I know think it is nothing more than a slob blood-fest and a black eye to the image of hunting.”

     There were about two dozen shoots since Sept. 5, 2009, at the Pikeville and Wing Pointe gun clubs in Berks County, and one at Erdman in Dauphin County, with one more scheduled for June 6. The Philadelphia Gun Club in Eddington (Bucks County) began hosting pigeon shoots again last year after township officials had issued a cease and desist order in May 2002, citing violations of both a township ordinance and the state law against cruelty to animals. However, in 2008, in violation of the cease and desist order, the Gun Club held another shoot. Wounded birds landed on neighbors’ property or in the Delaware River. Charges were filed against Leo A. Holt, club president, but were withdrawn in March 2009 under a “gentleman’s agreement” that the club would no long conduct pigeon shoots. The club has routinely violated that agreement. Holt, his brothers Thomas Jr. and Michael, their father, Thomas Sr., and Thomas Jr’s wife, Angela, contributed $53,300 in campaign funds to members and candidates of the Legislature between 2004 and the end of 2009, including $16,500 to House Speaker John M. Perzel between 2005 and 2008, according to records of the Pennsylvania Department of State.

There may be absolutely no cause-and-effect relationship between donations to Adams’ campaign and his stand on permitting live pigeon shoots. However, animal cruelty will probably continue to be a part of the culture of Berks County, at least as long as John T. Adams is the DA.

           [Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D., is professor of mass communications and journalism at Bloomsburg University. He is an award-winning social issues columnist and the author of 17 books. He first began covering Pennsylvania’s pigeon shoots in 1993. You may contact him through his website, www.walterbrasch.com]