Showing Animals Respect & Kindness video tests exemption for “shooting activities” in new anti-cruelty law
HAMBURG, Pennsylvania––Drone video obtained by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) both during and after a November 9, 2017 pigeon shoot at the Wing Pointe gun club in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, shows adult “trapper boys” not only dumping wounded pigeons alive into a barrel, but also burying many pigeons alive with a tractor shovel.
The SHARK video, posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi_EZGRlhzE, depicts these and other actions which clearly would have been illegal before the Pennsylvania anti-cruelty law was updated by HB 1238, dubbed “Libre’s Law,” in June 2017.
May no longer be prosecutable
Burying wounded pigeons alive and otherwise unnecessarily harming them before dispatch might no longer be prosecutable, however, due to language added to the law by state representative Todd Stephens, a Republican from Montgomery County.
HB 1238, including an apparent blanket exemption for pigeon shoots, called “Shooting activities not otherwise prohibited under this subchapter,” was strongly endorsed by both the Humane Society of the U.S. and Humane Pennsylvania, a federation representing local humane societies.
Acts held to be illegal under the old law
Ruling on July 21, 1999 for Pennsylvania SPCA humane investigator Clinton Hulzinger, against the Labor Day Committee in Hegins, Pennsylvania, which held an annual pigeon shoot from 1935 through 1998, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found that during those shoots “the trapper boys retrieve the wounded pigeons from the circled area and kill them by a variety of methods. These include tearing the birds’ heads from their bodies, throwing or smashing them against objects on the ground, crushing the birds by falling on them, and suffocating the birds by tossing them into a barrel filled with other dead and dying pigeons. All of these methods are contrary to accepted veterinary methods of euthanasia and cause the birds additional pain and suffering.”
Said SHARK founder Steve Hindi, who has campaigned against pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania since 1991, and won a ruling that stopped pigeon shoots in Illinois in 1992, “It is heartbreaking to see these innocent animals being tortured and mercilessly killed. What we filmed is not only evidence of criminal behavior, but it is a clarion call for legislation to finally be passed in Pennsylvania to ban pigeon shoots forever. That is why we are calling on Governor Tom Wolf to take action now.”
NRA called the shots
Neither Wolf nor the Pennsylvania legislature, however, are likely to revisit Pennsylvania humane law soon, after a multi-year political fight over HB 1238, which passed only after Stephens, who holds an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, produced a revision meeting NRA demands.
“As I understand it, the NRA insisted on language that they believed — and I’m not sure I agree with them — would have affected live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania,” Pennsylvania House Rules Committee member Mike Sturla told Lancaster Online staff writer Tom Knapp on October 27, 2016.
Despite the language exemption “shooting activities not otherwise prohibited under this subchapter” from prosecution under the updated Pennsylvania anti-cruelty law, Stephens insisted to ANIMALS 24-7 that, “This bill was not intended to, nor did it, change the state of the law in PA on pigeon shoots.”
Humane Pennsylvania defends the new law
Humane Pennsylvania president Karel Minor told ANIMALS 24-7 that “Since pigeon shoots have been widely––if incorrectly––considered to be allowable and requiring a legislative remedy to bring them to an end, opposing a bill which contained so many long time desired goals because it excluded pigeon shoots was not a decision we felt prudent.”
Libre’s Law, however, might potentially have affected an average of 13 prosecutions per year in Pennsylvania since 2007––about the same as the number of living pigeons that the Wing Pointe video shows being thrown alive into a barrel and/or being buried alive at just one of many pigeon shoots held each year.
“Since the existing law has not been successfully used to prosecute a shoot,” Minor added, “this exemption is not standing in the way of successful prosecutions, since none are occurring. In the counties where shoots occur, District Attorneys have actively quashed prosecutions on any grounds, including in Berks County by Humane Pennsylvania, regardless of current law.”
However, Minor finished, “Our organization continues to believe pigeon shoots to be illegal under current law.”
SHARK seeks prosecution
Agreed Humane Society of the U.S. senior director of campaigns Heidi Prescott, through publicist Anna West, the amended anti-cruelty law “maintains the current status quo on pigeon shoots.”
Seizing the opportunity to take Stephens, Minor, and Prescott at their words, and to test “Libre’s Law” in court, “SHARK has sent the video to an investigator from the Animal Rescue league of Berks County,” said Hindi. “All those involved, including the owner of Wing Pointe, must be charged with animal cruelty.
“There is a legal precedent for holding workers at a pigeon shoot accountable under the law for committing cruelty against pigeons,” Hindi continued. “This derives from charges brought against a worker whom SHARK filmed torturing pigeons at the Philadelphia Gun Club, located in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, on January 30, 2016. In this instance, the worker pleaded guilty to charges of animal cruelty.”
SHARK has sought to press cruelty charges against Wing Pointe since retrieving 21 wounded but living pigeons from a “dead pile” after a pigeon shoot on December 5, 2010.
Just short of a month later, on January 2, 2011, a SHARK drone that was videotaping another Wing Pointe pigeon shoot “suddenly crashed into the trees,” recounted SHARK spokesperson Stuart Chaifetz. “SHARK personnel suspected that the aircraft had been shot down. Video transmitted from the aircraft, along with ground cameras, show that the aircraft was shot at least twice,” Chaifetz said.
Posted to YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bp9coXCEjE, the video records four suspected rifle shots, the second and fourth of which appeared to hit the drone, 12 seconds and 1 minute, 30 seconds into the video, respectively.
D.A. did not accept charges
But the downed drone was never recovered from the tree on Wing Pointe property where it became snagged. The Pennsylvania State Police and Berks County district attorney John Adams refused to accept charges against Wing Pointe owner Joseph Solana and his employees, either in connection with the treatment of wounded pigeons or with the drone shoot-down.
“Adams has received campaign donations from pigeon shooters,” Chaifetz noted.
Wing Pointe is among the last locations in Pennsylvania that still host pigeon shoots.
Wing Pointe owner Joseph Solana also owns Carlton Pools. Hindi anticipated felony charges against Carlton Pools operations manager Robert Olsen, 61, of Warminster,
Pennsylvania, after Olsen on February 22, 2011 allegedly tried to physically obstruct SHARK member Janet Enoch from videotaping him in the act of accosting Hindi after a demonstration against pigeon shooting.
However, after Hindi and Enoch called the Warminster police, only Enoch’s video camera was known to have been impounded as evidence, along with Hindi’s laptop computer. The video camera and laptop were held for 12 days. After they were returned to Enoch and Hindi, SHARK posted the video to YouTube, where it remains visible at either https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OqP8Yg4w5ts or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J0NS1NDVbfI.
Instead of filing criminal charges, Warminster Township issued four summary citations against Hindi, two against Enoch, and two against Olsen, each having about the same legal weight as a parking ticket. Each person was fined $44.00.
“District Attorney David Heckler,” who handled that case, “has a history of protecting pigeon shooters,” alleged SHARK spokesperson Stuart Chaifetz at the time. “He has repeatedly ignored offenses including animal cruelty, shooters covering their license plates, shooters using their vehicles to threaten and intimidate, and weapons being knowingly discharged in the direction of protesters, in some cases hitting them.”
Heckler retired in 2016, but John Adams remains a Berks county district attorney.