Eric Gross, Staff Reporter
Putnam County Courier
CARMEL-Putnam might be more than 2,000 miles away from Galveston, Texas or Taos, New Mexico-the rodeo capitals of America-yet the county finds itself 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.
In the interim, members of the Putnam Legislature continue to hear testimony about the benefits and pitfalls of rodeos from a number of professionals. Last week, the Legislature's Rules Committee spent more than three hours on the topic when representatives of organizations from across the country traveled to Carmel and gave testimony.
Steve Hindi, a Humane Investigator from Illinois who represents an organization called People and Animals in Community Together, testified 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 agreed that the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was governed by rules: "Rules that have been habitually ignored. Judges watch it and do nothing even at the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas."
During last Thursday evening's meeting, vivid DVD footage was shown showing disturbing images of animals being shocked, pulled against stall doors with ropes and being tripped and what Hindi described as "clothes-lined" during calf roping events.
Some of the views were so disturbing that Legislator Sam Oliverio excused himself from the meeting telling his colleagues: "This sets my stomach on fire. I have been an animal advocate for years. This tape is terribly disturbing."
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."
Schonholtz also charged that the videos shown at the meeting had been edited down from hundreds of hours of tape to make the industry appear unattractive.
Andy and Jeri Camputaro own and operate the Double R World Championship Rodeo in upstate Catskill. The couple traveled from their Greene County residence to testify at the hearing.
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."
Chip Watson of Goshen has been in the rodeo business most of her life: "Some breeding bulls are worth $500,000 apiece. You have to be crazy to abuse your bread and butter!"
Following the discussion and debate the legislators in attendance reacted. Chairman Tony Hay of Southeast called the evening "disturbing. One side has nothing to gain and the other side everything to gain. The pro-rodeo people refused to admit that bad apples were found in their group."
Legislator Dan Birmingham, chairman of the Rules Committee, forecast that his colleagues were not going to be rushed into making a decision. "We will study the data received tonight and read the voluminous reports on the topic before making a decision later this summer at the earliest," he said.
Legislator Mary Conklin of Patterson agreed that the county was in no rush to judgment. "The first question that must be asked is: 'Do we need a no-rodeo law?'"
Legislator Terry Intrary of Kent listened to all the testimony and said: "This isn't in our venue. What about home rule? We must be careful not to step on the toes of our leaders on the town and village level."
The issue was first brought to the legislators by Southeast residents Neil Platt, Bob Funk and Louise Simmons, animal advocates, who want Putnam to follow the lead of other communities around the U.S. including San Francisco, St. Petersburg and Fort Wayne by banning rodeos.