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Proposed rodeo legislation called 'compromise'

Putnam County Courier
By: Eric Gross, Staff Reporter
08/28/2008

CARMEL-Legislation to be voted on next Tuesday at the Putnam Legislature's regular monthly meeting will probably not ban rodeos from performing in Putnam County - but will legislate against abuse and cruelty to animals.

Putnam, located more than 2,000 miles from Galveston, Texas and Taos, New Mexico-the rodeo capitals of America, has found itself, for the past four months, in the midst of a debate about outlawing rodeos.

An entrepreneur from Wingdale-Sergio Ramirez-has proposed opening a bull-riding exhibition on property along Route 22 in Patterson, north of Route 311. The matter is before Patterson officials.

The issue was first brought to the legislators by a group of local residents, animal advocates, who wanted Putnam to follow the lead of other communities around the U.S. including San Francisco, St. Petersburg and Fort Wayne by banning rodeos.

The Putnam Legislature's Rules Committee last week continued to hear testimony about the benefits and pitfalls of rodeos from a number of men and women. Although the vote has not yet been made, the legislature decided that the town of Patterson had the final authority to decide whether or not they wanted a rodeo in their town. The county, in the end, could legislate against cruelty, but not ban the rodeo outright.

Legislator Terry Intrary of Kent told his colleagues and a small audience: "I never want to see anyone or any animal abused but "this isn't in our venue. What about home rule? We must be careful not to step on the toes of our leaders at the town and village levels. If Patterson has a proposal for a bull riding operation, let the officials in Patterson decide what's best for their town. "

Dawn Lewis of Brewster charged that residents of the area had a failed perception of Putnam County in the wake of a political campaign alleging that Brewster was the "epicenter of crime" as well as the "many homes up for sale in our communities. Bringing a crude and low class form of entertainment like a rodeo to Putnam County will do nothing to better our reputation. People do not go to rodeos to see animals being treated well. We all know that rodeo animals suffer severe pain, fear and cruelty at the hands of rodeo operators. We must ask ourselves: Do Putnam residents have the decency to care about this?"

Neil Platt of Southeast agreed that "rodeos were terribly cruel. Electric prods, sharp sticks, caustic ointments and other devices used on the animals cause irritation and make them buck so violently that they can suffer severe injuries and even death."

Andy Camputaro said most people in suburban America had no idea what it was like working with large animals: "A cattle prod is the only way to move a 2,000 pound bull but this practice is not inhumane since it's been going on for generations. Stopping rodeos and stopping bull riding won't change a thing."

Jeri Camputaro suggested when a group books a rodeo "check out the contractor. Make sure he or she has the right papers. There are fly-by-night rodeo operators as there are fly-by-nights in other businesses. When something negative happens, they are run out of town but their actions hurt everyone in the profession."

Putnam's proposed legislation prevents the abuse and cruelty of animals while allowing the show to go on.

Legislator Sam Oliverio called it a "compromise. I'd much rather see such activities not occur at all in our county but government consists of give and take. We must assure the health and safety of our residents which also includes our pets and animals. There is nothing that fires me up more than something that has no protection. Every one of God's creatures has no right being abused. The restrictive resolution must be approved on Sept.2."

The law bans the use of "painful techniques and devices" where animals are "induced or encouraged to perform through the use of any chemical, mechanical or electrical manual device that will cause injury, torment or suffering."

The Putnam legislation specifically prohibits the use of electric prods or shocking devices, bull hooks, flank or bucking straps, wire tie-downs and sharpened or fixed spurs of rowels.

Legislator Mary Conklin of Patterson expressed reservation with the law because "we are overstepping our role as governmental agents. We are taking away people's freedom. Next we will be asked to ban the eating of beef since you have to kill the cow in order to eat it!"

Legislator Dan Birmingham, who chairs the Rules Committee, stressed that the proposed law does not ban rodeos but simply prohibits the "cruel administration of electrical and mechanical devices applied to innocent animals."

Steve Hindi, a Humane Investigator from Illinois who represents an organization called People and Animals in Community Together, testified earlier this summer while visiting Putnam that rodeo animals were abused with sharp spurs, tight straps, electric cattle prods and ropes: "The rodeo people call bucking broncos and bulls 'animal athletes' who were born to buck. If this is the case why shock the animals or jam spurs into their sides?"

Hindi explained that his group was not against rodeos per say: "We are against cruelty to animals. Show me cruelty and I want to see it changed!"

Hindi's testimony was rebuked by Cindy Schonholtz, Animal Welfare Coordinator of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association who traveled from Colorado Springs.

Schonholtz admitted that electric shocks were used in the rodeo industry in order to get stalling horses out of their chute: "We don't want the horses or their riders injured and a brief zap does the trick. Besides veterinarians are always on site to enforce the laws by protecting the interests of the animals."

Putnam's proposed legislation also demands that a licensed veterinarian be required "during the entirety of all rodeos, circuses and rodeo related events.'"

Next Tuesday's meeting gets under way at 7 o'clock in the historic Putnam County Courthouse in Carmel.