PHILADELPHIA––Seven years into an ongoing campaign to stop pigeon shoots held at the Philadelphia Gun Club for at least 125 years, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi put “Pennsylvania humane organizations” fourth on his list of the “10 Worst U.S. Animal Abusers of 2014.”
The list, also including U.S. Senator and pigeon shoot host James Inhofe, the Catholic Church, and Coca-Cola, names 10 prominent targets of SHARK campaigns. The list as a whole is published as an open letter to ANIMALS 24-7 readers at http://wp.me/p4pKmM-13q.
Charged Hindi of the Pennsylvania humane organizations, none of which were identified by name among the “10 Worst U.S. Animal Abusers of 2014, “They have failed to do what needs to be done to end cruel pigeon shoots. They do not document pigeon shoots, rescue the animal victims of pigeon shoots, bring charges against pigeon shooters, or do anything else required to end some of the worst cruelty and corruption in the country, despite bringing in millions of dollars.”
The Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania SPCA, the Women’s Humane Society, Humane Pennsylvania, and the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association joined the Humane Society of the U.S. in September 2014 in lobbying for the passage of a bill that would have banned pigeon shoots and would also have prohibited slaughtering dogs and cats for human consumption.
Endorsed by Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett, a Republican, the bill cleared the state senate on October 15, 2014 by a margin of 36-12. But three days before the Pennsylvania state house of representatives was to vote on the bill, the Pennsylvania Flyers Victory Fund passed out $20,000 to 17 members of the state House Rules Committee. House majority leader Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny).
Turzai––under heavy pressure from the National Rifle Association––then did not raise the bill for a vote. It died on the last day of the 2014 legislative session.
Hindi filed an ethics complaint against Turzai, but it was not upheld. (See “PA House majority leader Turzai took $3,000 from pigeon shooters, killed vote on pigeon shooting, but will not be investigated for alleged ethics violations,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-Vu.)
Endorsed 2014 bill
Except for the public endorsements of the 2014 legislation, which were most prominently publicized in an HSUS media release, established Pennsylvania humane societies have been quiet about pigeon shooting for decades.
The Bucks County SPCA had first endorsed the 2014 bill in a November 2013 web page. The Women’s Humane Society denounced the defeat of the 2014 bill by posting an alert about the donations by the Pennsylvania Flyers Victory Fund to the members of the state House Rules Committee, and account of the outcome by Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Amy Worden.
Hindi believes the Bucks County SPCA and the Women’s Humane Society spoke out as much as they did in support of the 2014 bill chiefly in response to his previous denunciations of their alleged relative silence.
Frustrated since 2013
Hindi initially voiced his frustration with the Bucks County SPCA and the Women’s Humane Society in March 2013, and again in April 2014, citing specifically 102 years of alleged inaction against the Philadelphia Gun Club by the Bucks County SPCA, founded in 1912, and 99 years of alleged inaction by the Women’s Humane Society, following the 1916 death of founder Carolyn Earle White.
“The last thing we at SHARK wish for is to be at odds with people from a fellow humane organization,” Hindi began in 2013 open letter to Bucks County SPCA president Anne Irwin, read aloud in a YouTube video, posted at http://www.sharkonline.org/index.php/pennsylvania-pashame/961-shark-calls-out-bucks-county-spca-on-pigeon-shoots-at-the-philadelphia-gun-club.
“That said,” Hindi continued, “we have for years made quiet overtures to the Bucks County SPCA, to no avail. With cruel, indefensible and illegal pigeon shoots continuing in Pennsylvania, including and especially in Bucks County, local humane organizations must execute their missions to end this longstanding abuse.”
The Philadelphia Gun Club, located in Bensalem, six miles from the Women’s Humane Society, is among the last facilities in Pennsylvania to host pigeon shoots.
A July 1999 Pennsylvania Supreme court verdict that pigeon shoot promoters and participants may be charged with cruelty halted the last public pigeon shoot in the state, held on Labor Day for 65 years in Hegins, a small town north of Harrisburg. But the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in January 2004 refused to hear an appeal of a 2002 ruling by the Superior Court of Berks County that pigeon shoots held at private gun clubs do not violate state anti-cruelty law if “reasonable efforts” are made to minimize the resultant animal suffering. The Berks County ruling came in response to efforts by Pennsylvania Legislative Action Network humane officer Johnna Seeton to prosecute pigeon shoots in Berks and Schuykill Counties.
Hindi contends that “reasonable efforts” are not made to minimize animal suffering at the Philadelphia Gun Club shoots.
“Current Pennsylvania humane law addresses the issues of abandonment, cruelty and neglect, all of which occur during a live pigeon shoot,” Hindi wrote to Irwin. “SHARK has plenty of video documentation, as well as the testimony of rehabilitators and veterinarians, that can be used to press for prosecution. We cannot file cruelty charges, but the Bucks County SPCA can.”
Conflict of interest?
In August 2010, a cruelty case brought by Seeton against Philadelphia Gun Club president Leo Holt got into court. But Bucks County district attorney David Heckler asked the court to drop the charge, conditional on the gun club making a $200 donation to the Bucks County SPCA.
“That could be attributed to Heckler’s relationship with attorney Sean Corr,” Hindi charged.
Corr, convicted of assaulting Hindi in a separate case, had campaigned for Heckler’s re-election. Because of this association, Heckler in 2012 withdrew from a case brought against Corr for allegedly stealing a political campaign sign belonging to a Democrat who was running against his sister, Republican state representative Margaret Quinn.
Corr represented the Philadelphia Gun Club as a member of Eastburn & Gray, a law firm which Hindi identified as “a major financial donor to Heckler’s campaigns.”
Bucks County SPCA board member Eric Tobin is a senior partner at Eastburn & Gray, his employer since 1974.
“Bucks County SPCA is not the enemy,” responded Irwin. “I am informed that Sean Corr is no longer employed by Eastburn and Gray, and that no other lawyer at Eastburn and Gray [now] represents the Philadelphia Gun Club.”
Hindi was not mollified. “SHARK’s criticism of the Bucks County SPCA is not for failure to make positive change. Our criticism is for not attempting to make change,” Hindi emphasized. “The mission statement of the Bucks County SPCA is, ‘To enforce the anti-cruelty laws of the state, to educate, and employ all available means to prevent and alleviate the suffering of animals within the County of Bucks.’ There is no one from the Bucks County SPCA preventing or alleviating the suffering of the victims of the Philadelphia Gun Club pigeon shoots.”
E-mailed Irwin in response to questions from ANIMALS 24-7 editor Merritt Clifton, “To my knowledge members of SHARK have called us on three different Saturday afternoons to send someone to the vicinity of Philadelphia Gun Club because of injured birds. On two of those occasions our staff member Nikki Thompson responded and started out toward Bensalem. On both occasions she was called back before she got there and told to disregard [the calls]. The third time she responded that we did not have anyone to send, but if people wanted to bring in the birds, we would take care of them. I have instructed my staff in future to respond every time, regardless of how busy we might be. The Philadelphia Gun Club is about 25 miles from our shelter and travel time tends to be 45 minutes or more,” Irwin said. “That does not stop us. There is another humane society in Bensalem Township about six miles away. I don’t know what their response has been.”
The Women’s Humane Society has not responded in two years either to repeated inquiries from Janet Enoch of SHARK, or inquiries from Clifton.
Both the Bucks County SPCA and the Women’s Humane Society have endorsed proposed legislation to more clearly establish the illegality of pigeon shooting in Pennsylvania, but before 2014 none of the bills advanced beyond committee.
“I have been active working on legislation for nearly 30 years and have a solid record of accomplishment in getting laws improved in Pennsylvania. A bill to ban pigeon shoots is the only thing that will prevent this ongoing cruelty,” Irwin has said.
NewspaperArchive.com shows that Anne Irwin volunteered for the Bucks County SPCA at least as early as 1974. By 1983 she had succeeded her mother, Jo Irwin, as Bucks County SPCA president. But there appears to be little public record of either Irwin speaking out about pigeon shoots. Anne Irwin did address pigeon shoots, however, after Schuylkill County Judge Cyrus Palmer Dolbin ruled in 1998 that Pennsylvania humane officers could not investigate cases outside of their own counties without prior court permission. Upheld by an appellate court, the ruling briefly protected the Hegins pigeon shoot organizers from prosecution for cruelty.
“It’s very difficult for the agencies that are in Schuylkill County to get involved in the Hegins pigeon shoot,” Irwin told Tracy Jordan of the Harrisburg Morning Call, “because they risk losing community support for all the other work that they do.”
Responded Hindi, “Those fighting for the humane treatment of Bucks County pigeon shoot victims currently come mostly from Illinois,” where SHARK is headquartered, 750 miles away, “and New Jersey. The few people involved from Pennsylvania are not from your organization,” Hindi reminded Irwin. “There is an enormous difference in the way local media treats activism involving ‘outsiders’ versus locals. Be there for upcoming shoots,” Hindi asked Irwin. “Contact the media regarding your efforts to end pigeon shoots. File cruelty charges––as many as appropriate, as many times as needed. If you and your board are unwilling to execute your duties as the leadership of the Bucks County SPCA, then please resign without further delay.”
Won case in 1890
Women’s Humane Society founder Caroline Earle White, 1833-1916, likely would have delivered a similar message to her successors. White headed the Woman’s Humane Society from 1869 until her death, along with the American Anti-Vivisection Society, which she founded in 1881. “Pigeon shoots and fox hunts received her vigorous condemnation and led her to advocate laws for their prohibition. She championed bird preservation before the advent of the Audubon Society and helped to secure protection for the Atlantic shore birds,” recalled Sydney H. Coleman, himself a legendary figure in the early humane movement, on page 183 of Humane Society Leaders in America, published in 1924 by the American Humane Association.
White at least once successfully prosecuted Philadelphia Gun Club pigeon shooters. The January 27, 1890 edition of The New York Times reported that club member A. Nelson Lewis was convicted by Judge Harman Yerkes of cruelty to animals for participating in a December 1887 shoot at the original club headquarters in Andalusia, Bucks County. The club moved to the present site along the Delaware River in 1894. “In his opinion, Judge Yerkes declared that the act of March 1869, under which the indictment was framed, is intended to bring all brute creation under the shelter of the law,” The New York Times recounted.
A Civil War veteran who practiced law for 63 years and for 20 years was president of the Bucks County Court, Yerkes called pigeon shooting an “offense against public morals, which the commission of cruel and barbaric acts offend.”