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Somerville businessman faces Pennsylvania animal cruelty charge

Dec 12, 2012

Written by Sergio Bichao, Centraljersey.com

The 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris may have been the first, but certainly the last time, pigeon shooting was allowed as an event.

More than a century later the practice continues in Pennsylvania, which draws spectators and gunmen from neighboring states, where pigeon shooting is illegal.
For animal-rights activists, pigeon shooting is not a sport: It’s a blood bath.

The latest target of these pro-pigeon crusaders is New Jersey businessman Richard Pieros, a Readington resident who owns a Somerville-based construction contracting firm.
Pieros earlier this year was charged with animal cruelty, not for shooting a bird, but for using his hat to slap a shot bird off his car.

The charge is a summary offense, which in Pennsylvania is the lowest level of crime. If found guilty Thursday afternoon by Magisterial District Judge Gregory D. Johnson in Dauphin County, Pieros could face a fine of up to $300 and a 90-day probation or jail sentence.

But if recent history is any indicator, it is unlikely the judge will rule against Pieros. Pieros’ attorney, David M. Kozloff, downplayed the legal action against his client.
“This is ongoing harassment against an activity which is lawful,” Kozloff said Wednesday.

In Pennsylvania, animal-cruelty charges are filed by court-appointed Humane Society police officers, somewhat akin to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty Animals in New Jersey. The courts, however, repeatedly have shot down efforts to prosecute gun-club owners under the animal cruelty laws. In two counties, the district attorneys — which, like judges in Pennsylvania, are elected — have refused to allow further prosecutions against gun clubs. Meanwhile, an effort to ban pigeon shooting failed last year in the Pennsylvania legislature.
This all makes for an open season on pigeons year-round in Pennsylvania.

“Most pigeon shooters come from out of state, from New Jersey and New York. They go to Pennsylvania because even though it should be illegal, they still let it go,” said Stuart Chaifetz, a spokesman for the Illinois-based nonprofit advocacy group SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK.

The group’s nonviolent guerrilla tactics include videotaping shooters and spectators at pigeon shoots and then posting the clips online. One such video shot by Chaifetz is being used as evidence against Pieros.

That video, which is available on YouTube under the title “Brave Pigeon Shooter — NOT!” shows Pieros using his baseball cap to angrily swat a bloody bird off the roof of his black van. Knowing he’s under surveillance, Pieros then makes an obscene arm gesture toward the camera. Later, he empties a water bottle over the vehicle, apparently to clean off the blood, Chaifetz said.

The goal of pigeon shooting is to shoot as many birds as possible. Live pigeons, locked in small boxes that are placed on a field. The boxes are remotely opened and the pigeons are mechanically ejected into the air. Mostly, they’re like sitting ducks to shotgun-armed shooters standing several yards away.

Many of the birds don’t die instantly. Their limping bodies are scooped up by “trapper boys” and dumped into piles. As many as 1,500 pigeons can be discarded in one afternoon at a modestly attended shooting event, activists say.

Johnna Seeton, the Humane Society officer who filed the charge against Pieros, said pigeon shooting does not fall under the four defenses to animal cruelty: agriculture, pest control, gaming or self-defense.

“Regardless of whether or not the bird had been shot or not shot, I don’t think it would have made a difference. I would have charged him anyway,” she said Wednesday.
A representative for the Erdman Sportsmen Club, the gun club where Pieros hit the pigeon, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.