Ill. rights group: Electric prod was used on animals

By Dale Quinn 
Arizona Daily Star
Feb. 27, 2008

Tucson, Arizona-An Illinois-based animal-rights organization has filed a complaint claiming that horses at this year's Fiesta de Los Vaqueros were treated with unnecessary cruelty.

The group called SHARK, or Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, filed the complaint Monday morning with the animal services division in Arizona's Department of Agriculture because horses were shocked with an electric prod during the rodeo, said Janet Enoch, a SHARK investigator.

The group claims the use of electric prods on the horses violates a city ordinance that prohibits a person from inflicting unnecessary cruelty upon an animal.

Ed Hermes, a spokesman for the animal services division in the Department Agriculture, confirmed that the agency is investigating the abuse claim. "We take any case with animal abuse allegations very seriously," Hermes said. Fabian Pacheco, a spokesman for the Tucson Police Department, said the department has received no complaint regarding the group's claim, and no investigation has been initiated.

Steve Hindi, SHARK's president and founder, said he took video footage of horses being shocked with a prod that can deliver what he described as up to 6,000 volts of electricity.

In a video posted on the video- sharing Web site YouTube.com, men can be seen pressing a black, hand-held device against horses' flanks once riders are on top of the horses and the stall gates swing open. The men then appear to try to hide the device from view as they step back from the stall.

Hermes said the Department of Agriculture has requested the unedited video so it can be examined during the investigation. A challenge may emerge for investigators because many of the people handling the animals may have already left the state, he said.

Hermes said he didn't know how long the investigation would take. "We're just in the information gathering stage," he said.

The Department of Agriculture had its own livestock officers at the rodeo and none of them witnessed animal abuse, Hermes said, but that doesn't mean it didn't occur.

Hindi said shocking the horses with such a prod is a painful and cruel way to get the animals to buck. He said his organization isn't opposed to rodeos, but it does work to make sure animals aren't treated cruelly when they take place. Gary Williams, the general manager of the Tucson Rodeo, said animals aren't treated cruelly at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros and it's important to remember that a horse's hide is much thicker than a human's skin.

He said the men involved work for the livestock provider contracted by the rodeo. He said the devices are used to get the animals out of the chute to prevent them from bucking in the enclosed area where the rider and horse might be hurt — a practice accepted by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Hindi has attacked many rodeos in the past, Williams said.

"It's pretty typical of Steve Hindi and his efforts at discrediting rodeos," he said.

Delivering a shock can be a humane way to get livestock to move from one place to another, Williams said. The handlers of the horses deliver the shock to get them out of a stall when the gate opens so they don't start bucking early, which could injure the horse or its rider, he said.

Beutler & Son Rodeo Co., based in Elk City, Okla., owns the animals used in the Tucson Rodeo, Williams said. The owners of the animals aren't going to mistreat them because animals that have been abused don't perform well in rodeos, he said.

Williams said there have never been allegations of cruelty at the Tucson Rodeo in the past.

Hindi said this is the first time SHARK has investigated the Tucson Rodeo. The organization has a small number of people working for it and there are many rodeos that its employees investigate, Hindi said.

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