State to watch rodeos closer

Pamphlet will explain how, when animals may be shocked

The Associated Press
November 13, 2001
By John O'Connor

SPRINGFIELD – An animal-rights group has spurred state officials to take new steps meant to ensure better treatment of animals at Illinois rodeos.

The Illinois Agriculture Department says new pamphlets will explain to rodeo operators how and when horses and cattle may be shocked with electric prods or have their tails pulled or twisted. The pamphlets will describe appropriate shelter and illegal events.

The department also promised to begin inspecting more rodeos, Agriculture spokesman John Herath said.

"Our intent is not to knock them down and say, 'You're doing a bad job,' but to let them know what's expected, to have those guidelines in their hands," Herath said.

The agreement is "a major step forward," said Steve Hindi, president of the group SHARK, which stands for Showing Animals Respect and Kindness.

Hindi and compatriots with video cameras documented apparent abuses of rodeo rules at the National High School Finals Rodeo in July 2000, hosted for the first time by Illinois at the state fairgrounds.

In what he described as animal "torment," cattle and horses were shocked with prods even though they weren't stalling in chutes before event, tails were pulled and raked over fence rails, and some calves roped around the neck appeared to be pulled further than rules allow.

A Texas rodeo expert showed the video by The Associated Press agreed with some of Hindi's complaints.

The department said state law had not been violated, although Herath acknowledged last week that the video caused "concern" and events were more closely watched when the high school finals returned last summer.

Hindi, a business owner from the western Chicago suburb of Elburn, continued to complain and met earlier this month with Julie King, the agency's food safety and animal protection chief.

"We still believe rodeo is cruel, but they explained to us that the intent of the law was not to stop rodeos," Hindi said.

"So that's the burden we have to bear. We'll have to bring legislation if we want to deal with the basic rodeo events."

Herath said hosting the national event and SHARK's information helped educate the department in what he said was a "new arena."

He doesn't know how many rodeos Illinois has each year.

Hindi is helping the agency contact professional rodeo organizations that sponsor events. County fair associations, which often hire rodeos, will be contacted too.

The National High School Finals Rodeo will not return in 2002, but Illinois may apply to host the event against in four years.