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Dueling deer defenders: Local group spars with out-of-towners

June 9, 2005

The Sun News (Solon, OH)

By Bob Sandrick

(First in a series)

When Steve Hindi first came to Solon in December, the deer culling opposition here seemed energized.

Understandably so, Hindi is president of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, a self-described animal protection group in Geneva, Ill. He had fought for animal rights in other parts of the country and now wanted to stop deer culling in Solon.

But culling opponents here seemed disorganized and divided. Hindi was unable to unify the different factions.

"We call them baby goats," Hindi said. "That's when you've got activists and everybody has a different thought, everybody goes off in different directions, and nothing gets done."

In fact, Hindi himself became caught up in conflict among local culling opponents that continues to this day.

The disorganization was apparent at a December meeting of Friends of Solon Deer, a loosely knit group.

Culling proponents heckled speakers. Culling opponents pushed various agendas and strategies. Leaders tried to establish themselves. At one point, the meeting broke down, with television news interviewing Hindi and city officials in the lobby while activists inside continued to speak.

Cannon Road resident Belinda Geiger attended that meeting. Not long afterward, hoping to organize culling opponents, she formed Peaceful Deer Alliance of Solon. The group's mission was to use legal means to stop deer culling and education the public about the city's culling operation.

Geiger wanted her organization to separate from SHARK. She didn't believe in Hindi's high-profile methods. Through SHARK, Hindi has videotaped and exposed animal abuse, and alleged cases of animal abuse, throughout the United States.

Geiger and Hindi have butted heads ever since.

"Steve is not beyond creating a scene and becoming extreme," Geiger said. "There's such a thing as getting bad press. It's just not the direction we decided to pursue. We didn't see what that accomplishes.

Cruelty versus safety

While Geiger was forming Peaceful Deer Alliance, Hindi sued Solon over its culling program because the city wouldn't let him videotape it. The city had hired White Buffalo Inc. in Connecticut to shoot deer.

Hindi wanted Solon residents to join him in the lawsuit. Geiger said they refused because he didn't tell them any details. The suit was quickly thrown out of court over technicalities.

"(Hindi) has been angry with us ever since because we wouldn’t sign on," Geiger said.

Beverly Whelan, a Solon culling opponent, said residents were afraid the city would counter-sue.

"People felt they were putting themselves at risk financially," Whelan said.

Hindi said he wasn't resentful about the lawsuit.

"It would have been better if Solon residents had got involved," Hindi said. "They were warned that Solon would sue us back. We told them the chances were minimal, but we could not say there was no chance."

Hindi said he was backed out of Solon for a while because some Solon activists-including Geiger- wanted to focus on the public safety aspect of deer culling. They said it was too dangerous to kill deer near houses.

To Hindi, that was a false pretense.

"To us, it's an animal cruelty issue," Hindi said.

But Geiger was convinced that most Solon residents wouldn't rally around a save-the-deer issue. She believed they would respond if their children's safety- and the high cost of deer culling-were questioned.

Tactical differences

Geiger and Hindi also disagreed on tactics. Hindi didn't mind using the courts but also wanted to place culling on the ballot. He faulted Solon activists for not doing so.

"It was insane to not put it on the ballot," Hindi said. "There were people saying we didn't know if we were going to win. Right, and when the challenger goes in to fight the champion, he doesn't know if he's going to win either, but how else are you going to find out?"

Geiger said culling opponents had never seriously considered taking the issue to voters. Besides, by the time of the December library meeting, it was too late. Council had approved the culling program Oct. 21, and the charter gives residents only 40 days to request a referendum.

However, Whelan said culling opponents had discussed a ballot issue before the library meeting. Still, she was against the idea because years ago she had fought for a state initiative to stop the hunting of morning doves. It failed.

Whelan was convinced a ballot issue opposing deer culling would go down in Solon.

"There is so much deception in any election," Whelan said. "You really need a financing source to counteract that."

Geiger agreed with Hindi that videotaping culling was an effective tactic. But Hindi said Solon culling opponents were afraid that police would bully those trying to shoot the shooters.

"The police oftentimes – and I'm not just talking about the Solon police – will tell you to do something they know they can't make you do lawfully," Hindi said.

Geiger countered that she did try to videotape culling when Hindi was no longer in town. That was when Katherine Doherty, a McAfee Drive culling opponent, was ticketed by police for not having her headlights on.

Doherty fought the ticket, saying she had been cited during daylight hours. She lost in court last month.

Geiger said on one occasion she asked Hindi to use his more sophisticated equipment to videotape on one property, but Hindi never followed through.

Hindi and DeNicola

Hindi learned of the Solon deer kill from Patti Mellini, a Mentor culling opponent.

Hindi met Mellini about three years at an animal rights conference near Washington, D.C. area. They stayed in touch.

Then Hindi heard of a culling program in the Summit County park system, where White Buffalo was training park rangers to shoot deer.

Hindi had been hearing about White Buffalo and its president, Anthony DeNicola. He wanted to see if their operation was humane, so he set up hidden video cameras.

"It was a brand new program, so we thought they meant they wouldn't have a lot of security," Hindi said. "We were wrong."

Rangers found Hindi's cameras and confiscated the videotape. They erased the footage and Hindi sued. The matter is still in court.

Same time, place, channel

The culling may be over this year, but Hindi isn't finished. He will still try to work with Solon culling opponents and stop the culling planned for 2006. Like Geiger, he wants to educate residents.

"This is the time, between now and the next kill, to do that," Hindi said.

Geiger wants to form a community-based task force that would study the deer problem and influence City Council. She'll recruit members at Solon Home Days July 28-31.

She said she would not, however, work with Hindi. She said their philosophies are too different.