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Legislature Appears Ready to Allow Rodeos in Putnam

Draft resolution's provisions would set strict limits on "accepted" devices used

by Margaret Sternberg
The Putnam County News
July 30, 2008

The Putnam County Legislature may have found a way of bridging what seemed like an impossible divide between the pro- and anti-rodeo forces that have recently butted heads over a proposal by Patterson landowner Robert Pfister to hold a rodeo.

At the July 9, 2008 meeting of the Legislature's Rules Committee, an initial draft of a proposed resolution specifically regarding rodeos was discussed by legislators. The first draft was not voted upon that evening, and legislators anticipate having a final draft before them for their August Committee meeting.

In its current form, the resolution would appear to allow rodeos, but puts restrictions in place, including not allowing "any rodeo or rodeorelated event…in which animals are induced or encouraged to perform through the use of any practice or technique, or any chemical, mechanical, electrical or manual device that will cause, or is likely to cause physical injury, torment or suffering. The following devices are specifically prohibited at all events: electric prods or shocking devices, flank or bucking straps, wire tie-downs, and sharpened or fixed spurs or rowels."

The resolution would also require that a "humane agent" have access to any areas in which animals have been or are present. That person would be accompanied by a representative from the rodeo.

In addition, a licensed veterinarian specializing in equine or bovine vet medicine would be required during the entire rodeo and would have the same type of access. The vet would have complete and unilateral authority over the treatment and utilization of all animals or livestock.

The Putnam County resolution, which was drafted by Legislature Chairman Tony Hay, is based upon a Pittsburgh City Code enacted in 1992 that, while not expressly outlawing rodeos, effectively no longer allowed the events to take place through outlawing of the various devices used to "enhance" an animal's performance.

According to Steve Hindi, President of the Illinois-based organization, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness ("SHARK,") no rodeos have taken place in Pittsburgh since the law was enacted. Much of the language in the Putnam County draft resolution is identical to the Pittsburgh Code language.

Chairman Hay said that several constituents from his district (District 6 - Southeast) had requested that he draft a law regarding the issue. Among those constituents is Brewster resident Neil Platt, who has attended all of the Legislature's meetings on the issue and has been an outspoken opponent of rodeos being permitted in the County. Platt said the proposed resolution, even in draft form, "goes very far in preventing rodeos from taking place. Without tools of abuse, the rodeo will not take place. This law would not permit the abuse of animals, and without that, there is no rodeo."

Cindy Schonholtz, Animal Welfare Coordinator for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association ("PRCA,) attended the June meeting of the Rules Committee and spoke on behalf of permitting rodeos. When told of the proposed legislation, Ms. Schonholtz sent a statement to the PCN&R reading, in part, "The PRCA supports the proper care and handling of livestock at rodeo but opposes the passage of legislation that would not allow for rodeo events to take place in certain jurisdictions. The PRCA opposes the provisions of the draft Putnam County Legislation banning the use of cattle prod, flank strap and locked rowel spurs (the star-shaped device that is worn by a rider near the ankle). They are all pieces of equipment used in rodeo that when used correctly do not cause harm to the animal."

Schonholtz wrote that "electric prods are humane ways to move large animals with skin three to seven times thicker than humans," continuing that it is a "useful tool when used sparingly to move large animals and can serve as protection for the livestock and handler in many situations." Flank straps "allow for a horse or bull, with the natural tendency to buck, to kick higher [and] are adjusted to each animal for optimum performance."

The prohibition against locked rowel spurs, she wrote, would put a bull rider in jeopardy by hampering the rider's ability to stay on the bull.

Ms. Schonholtz did not return messages left by the PCN&R for clarification of several matters raised by her statement.

Mr. Hindi, of the SHARK organization, described the resolution as "a good fallback," elaborating that he thought "the ideal thing would be for a county to stand up and say we're not going to allow this. The Pittsburgh law is a good law, and it effectively stopped animals from being tortured. Putnam looking at this [issue] is a good thing." Hindi added that "it tells the whole story right there" that by prohibiting the various rodeo devices in Pittsburgh in 1992, no rodeos have since taken place there.

The August meeting of the Rules Committee will be posted on the PCN&R's website as soon as it becomes available.