You are browsing the archive for animal cruelty.

by brasch

Pennsylvania Senate Committee Says Pigeon Shoots Are Animal Cruelty

9:05 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

A multi-colored pigeon on a window stoop outside a large building.

Pennsylvania may finally ban pigeon hunts.

HARRISBURG, Pa.—There is a remote possibility that Pennsylvania will finally ban the cruel practice of live pigeon shoots when the state senate reconvenes in September. Pennsylvania is the last state where pigeon shoots are legally held.

Rep. John Maher had written an amendment to an animal cruelty bill that would ban the killing, serving, and eating of dogs and cats. The amendment to ban pigeon shoots was sponsored in the Senate by Stewart J. Greenleaf, the committee chair; and Richard Alloway, a lifelong hunter.

The Judiciary committee had voted 10-4 to send the bill to the full Senate. Voting to send the bill to the Senate were all five Democrats and five of the nine Republicans. Voting against the bill to ban killing and eating dogs and cats, and to ban pigeon shoots, were Republican senators John H. Eichelberger Jr., John R. Gordner, Gene Yaw, and Joseph B. Scarnati III (R-Brockway), the Senate president pro tempore. Gordner later claimed he voted against the bill because he objected to how the amendment was added at the “last minute.” However, the amendment, following long-time Senate rules that have applied to legislation for decades, had been circulated to members at least 24 hours before the vote. In the committee meeting, Gordner did not speak out about what he considered to be a problem with “last minute” amendments, and quietly voted “no” on a voice vote.

The vote to advance the bill came following a furious last-minute lobbying effort by the NRA, which has consistently supported pigeon shoots. The leadership, as opposed to most of the membership, wrongly believes that banning animal cruelty by guns is a “slippery slope” that not only violates the Second Amendment but will lead to gun control bans.

“The Judiciary committee took the first step to ending this horrifying and cruel practice,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who has been campaigning to end this practice for almost three decades. “The public favors replacing live pigeons as targets with clay pigeons,” says Prescott, who does not oppose trap or skeet shoots.

Following a second reading, the bill was scheduled for a vote, June 29, but was delayed because the Senate was still grappling with the 2014-2015 budget bills, due by July 1. Even if the Senate does vote to ban pigeon shoots, the bill is likely to have significant opposition in the House, which is far more rural and conservative. Pennsylvania, even though it is in the industrial North, is known to be an NRA-friendly state.

However, more than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to pigeon shoots, according to a statewide survey by the independent Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Co. About four-fifth of all residents say the practice is animal cruelty.

Organizers of this blood sport place pigeons—many of them emaciated—into small cages, and place people with 12-gauge shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded traps open, and the shooters open fire. Most of the birds are shot standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from those who pretend they are sportsmen.

Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Pets Are Nothing More Than Kitchen Chairs

6:37 am in Uncategorized by brasch

A dog peeks its snout out of a shelter cage.

A call for humane treatment of animals.

In Johnstown, Pa., two abandoned puppies died from starvation and freezing weather in an unoccupied house.

In Lancaster County, two puppies were left in a backpack in freezing weather.

In Centre County, a dog was frozen to the floor of its doghouse.

In Edwardsville, a woman abandoned 19 dogs after she was evicted from her mobile home. Seven dogs had died of starvation. The others were near death.

In Monroe County, police found three dogs, each in a plastic bag, abandoned along the side of roads. Each was dead. One had been shot.

All the cases were reported the past two weeks in Pennsylvania. These aren’t the only cases; hundreds aren’t reported.

Four years ago, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) rescued 253 dogs from the Almost Heaven puppy mill near Allentown. “It was the most horrific house of horrors I had seen,” says Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania HSUS director.

“When you walked into the kennel,” says Speed, “you got slapped by the stench of filth and disease.” The kennel had a make-shift “hospital.” “If they got better, usually without treatment,” says Speed, “they went back to the kennel; if they didn’t, they died.”

The owner had been convicted twice before of animal cruelty. This time he was given a three to six month jail sentence.

Sentences for animal abuse and cruelty in Pennsylvania are minimal. For killing or mutilating a domestic animal, the fine is usually no more than $50-$75, and jail time is usually no more than 30 days, if it’s even imposed.

The reason the penalty is so small is because Pennsylvania, like most states, believes pets are nothing more than chattel. Like a kitchen chair, an animal may be bought, sold, traded, or thrown away. Pennsylvanians may kill their own pet, and there are no charges—“as long as the death was done humanely,” says Speed. “You can choose where to allow an animal to live and when and how to allow it to die.”

For many breeders, dogs are nothing more than crops. The good crops are sold. The bad crops are destroyed.

Pennsylvania, especially in the south-central region, has a national reputation of being one of the largest “puppy mill” farm areas in the nation. Regulations passed during the Ed Rendell administration improved the conditions of the breeding kennels, and eliminated many that failed to meet minimal standards of care. When he was attorney general, Tom Corbett was vigorous in enforcing those new regulations. However, enforcement declined significantly during Corbett’s first two years as governor. Part of the problem was that he appointed an individual to head the Office of Dog Law Enforcement who had been a banker and not qualified for the position. That has recently changed with a new appointment.

Last year, Pennsylvania shut down 44 unlicensed kennels, and revoked the licenses of four kennels. But the problem, says Speed, “is the number of unlicensed kennels and breeders who used social media to sell to individuals throughout the country, and who have informal contracts with pet stores to supply puppies.”

Most cases of animal abuse aren’t reported; those that are reported usually don’t result in charges being filed. The problem, says Speed, “is that humane officers are so overburdened by the calls they take that they can only pursue the calls of the most egregious cruelty.” If you’re going to abuse an animal, says Speed, “you’ll probably get away with it.”

One of the reasons for a lack of humane officers is the cost to train, employ, and insure the officers. Those costs aren’t borne by taxpayers but by non-profit organizations.  About 70 percent of all costs for county dog wardens come from license fees. Wardens often spend their time enforcing dog licensing and kennel licensing laws.

Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Pennsylvanians Support Pigeon Shoot Ban

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

Three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to live pigeon shoots.

A statewide survey by the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Company reveals not only do 75 percent of Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots but only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban.

Here’s another figure from that independent survey. Eighty-three percent—that’s more than four of every five Pennsylvanians—say live pigeon shoots are an unnecessary form of animal cruelty.

Here’s why.

Organizers of this blood sport place the birds into cages, and place people with shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded cages open, and the pretend hunters open fire. The pigeons, many of them stunned, often having been nearly starved, are then blown apart.

But first they suffer. More than 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to data compiled by the Humane Society of the United States. If they fall onto the shooting range, teenagers take the birds, wring their necks or use scissors to cut their heads off, and stuff them into barrels. Even if the birds survive strangulation, they will die from their wounds and from suffocation. If the wounded birds manage to fly outside the shooting range, most will die a lingering and painful death. The juveniles-disguised-as-adults consider the birds litter, and don’t pick them up if they fall outside the shooting range.

Most hunters agree live pigeon shoots is cruelty. Most hunters rightfully say this is not fair chase hunting. Most hunters want to see this practice come to an end. And they have every right to want this to happen—pigeon shoots make a mockery of everything legitimate hunting stands for, and gives anti-hunting activists a huge target.

None of the birds can be used for food. Nor is there any way to make fur coats from their feathers.

Pennsylvania’s trap and skeet shoots attract many of the best shooters from around the country, and are a justifiably family-friendly sport. In contrast, pigeon shoots attract an assortment of barely-mediocre shooters, most of whom mix shooting and drinking, and openly violate the state’s gambling laws. Ted Nugent, who justifiably lives up to his “Motor City Madman” label, actively promotes pigeon shoots.

More than a century ago, the International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shooting as cruel, and declared it wasn’t a sport. Almost no country allows pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that officially condones this practice.

So, if three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see a ban on pigeon shoots, who doesn’t?

The Pennsylvania legislature doesn’t. In almost three decades, the leaders have blocked almost every attempt to put legislation up for a vote. The last time there was a free-standing bill was in 1989.

And why has Pennsylvania’s often-dysfunctional legislature not followed the will of the people and banned this cruelty?

It’s an easy answer. Politicians are ruled not by the people who elect them but by who spreads money and fear onto their souls. In this case, the NRA executives—not the membership, almost all of whom believe in fair chase hunting, but the executives—don’t want to see the end of pigeon shooting. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon shooting violates the Second Amendment. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon slaughter is a slippery slope to the overthrow of gun rights.

Pennsylvania’s part-time legislators who receive full-time pay buy into this because they have been bought by the NRA—and they are afraid if they get even a grade of “B” from the NRA it might affect their chances of re-election.

This legislative session, Sen. Pat Browne (R-Allentown), the Senate’s majority whip, sponsored a bill (SB 510) to ban pigeon shoots. He has 22 co-sponsors; among them are Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Glen Mills, Pa.), the majority leader; Sen. Jay Costa (D-Pittsburgh), the minority floor leader; and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), the minority caucus chair. Browne also has the support of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies.

Even if the Senate passes the bill, the vote in the House will be contentious—its leaders have been the primary blocks to keep the bill from a vote.

If our Jello-spined legislators will look at the will of the people, they will stand up to the NRA executives, vote for Sen. Browne’s bill to ban pigeon shoots, and bring Pennsylvania into line with all other states that can make a distinction between Second Amendment rights and animal cruelty.

[Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, for more than two decades has been covering the controversy surrounding pigeon shoots. Dr. Brasch is also the author of 18 books; his latest is Fracking Pennsylvania, which explores the financial and political connections between state politicians and the gas and oil industry.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Override Humane Actions

6:53 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by WALTER BRASCH

Two gray pigeons, one at rest the other in flight.

Photo by Frédéric BISSON.

A national animal welfare organization has filed ethics charges 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.

Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Pennsylvania Legislators Shoot Down Pigeons—Again

7:53 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

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.]