Rodeo wary of wrongs in name of animal rights

PRCA on guard for activists trying to disrupt National Finals

Thursday, December 09, 2004
Las Vegas Review-Journal

Nearly 50 security specialists from throughout the West Coast are at the Thomas & Mack Center to supplement Las Vegas and UNLV police officers during the National Finals Rodeo.

This is typical Rodeo Mafia hype. The “security specialists” are nothing more than ordinary security guards. Of course “security specialists” makes the situation sound much more theatrical and sensational than the non-sensational reality. During the course of any large event lasting 10 days, a number of security guards are required. SHARK would also like to know the exact number of guards Wolf chooses to describe as “nearly 50.” Knowing the Rodeo Mafia and it minions, “nearly 50” could very well be far, far less.

An Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agent and her bombing-sniffing dog make their rounds throughout the 10-day event.

Additional means of surveillance that event officials won't discuss are being employed to guard against terrorism.

Note the use of the “T” word. Terrorism is the current buzz word sure to get attention and prejudice an audience against whomever the word was directed. It has become the most abused and deliberately misused word of the new century and it’s all done for political advantage. The real irony here is that the only acts of terrorism committed during the NFR were taking place against animals in the arena.

But the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's security effort isn't primarily to protect the nightly crowds of more than 17,000 against an international threat of violence.

The PRCA is on alert for domestic foes.

One group of animal rights advocates was in Las Vegas for opening weekend, waging a verbal war against rodeo and alleging crimes are committed against the calves, steer, horses and bulls of the PRCA.

Mr. Wolf deliberately straddles a very fine line between deliberate defamation and a libel suit. Immediately after his 5 very theatrical opening paragraphs about the possible victimization of rodeo animal abusers by “domestic foes,” he states that an animal rights group is in town to protest. He doesn’t call the animal rights group “domestic foes” outright, but he hardly needs to. In fact, SHARK was waging a video expose of the cruelty, injuries and death suffered by animals at the hands of rodeo people.

NFR officials remain on alert for more activist groups, believing an act meant to disrupt the rodeo could occur at any time.

T3 hardly had this much suspense! Come to think of it, T3 was far more credible than Mr. Wolf's article.

A dispute could have been triggered by an incident at this NFR. A calf suffered a spinal injury in Friday's calf roping round and was euthanized Tuesday after being cared for at a local animal hospital.

This is pure PR being provided by the PRCA in an effort to hide the truth about rodeo animal abuse. SHARK video documented 19 PRCA rodeos in 10 states in 2004. We saw many animals injured. We did NOT see animal humanely euthanized or even treated. Of course these incidents were not under media scrutiny at the time…

According to a PRCA official, it was the first time a calf died from an NFR injury. Two years ago in the NFR, a bucking bull suffered a broken back in competition and met a similar fate.

Mr. Wolf fails to mention bucking horse Great Plains who sustained a broken back in the arena at the 2001 National Finals Rodeo. He also fails to talk about the PRCA's refusal to disclose animal injury and death records. He further ignores the fact that animal injuries and deaths are edited out of televised rodeos.

Steve Hindi of Geneva, Ill., founder of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), held a sparsely attended news conference Nov. 29 in Henderson to rip the PRCA and rodeo in general for abusing animals.

The press conference was well attended by local media. Perhaps Wolf didn’t notice because he didn’t stay long enough. In fact, after fidgeting, looking at his watch, and making comments defensive of rodeo during the first 10 minutes of our shocking video documentation, he left. As for his assertion that we were there “to rip the PRCA and rodeo in general”: we didn’t have to. Our undercover video footage from PRCA rodeos around the country did that for us.

Hindi used a video compilation of several 2004 rodeos to allege that various devices used in rodeo, like flank straps, which enhance the bucking efforts of horses and bulls, are inhumane. The video showed instances of misuse of battery-powered Hot-Shot brand cattle prods and the violent nature of calf roping and steer roping. (Steer roping is not an NFR event).

Wolf makes every effort to slant his use of words for the purpose of creating bias. In Wolf World, 19 rodeos in 10 states become “several.” SHARK was in town to “rip” the PRCA. The press conference was “sparsely attended.” His consistent use of non-neutral words is hardly inadvertent. This explains why Jeff Wolf won the PRCA’s media award in 2001… The PRCA certainly has a friend in Mr. Wolf!

Regarding the last sentence about steer roping not being an NFR event: Of course it’s not! Steer roping is, however, a PRCA sanctioned event, but it is so violent, so brutal, and so utterly indefensible, that it could never be part of a televised rodeo. The hideous nature of this event and the PRCA’s attempt to keep it secret was the major thrust of our press conference -- the one Jeff didn’t bother to stay for. The PRCA wants their dirty little secret to stay secret and Mr. Wolf is apparently happy to help them out.

The Hot-Shot shown in the video was misused according to PRCA rules, and that could result in a fine once the video is authenticated, a PRCA official said. Misuse of the prod, which emits 5,000 volts compared with 50,000 volts from a stun gun, could result in a $250 fine. That amount progressively doubles for each recurring violation at a rodeo.

Just one problem, Jeff. Nobody gets fined unless somebody reports it, and nobody does. The use of the 5,000-§,000 volt prod is so common, so completely accepted, that in most rodeos the cowboys make no attempt to even hide it. SHARK has video documentation of cowboys shocking animals confined in holding chutes – often repeatedly – while PRCA judges watch. It’s also noteworthy that the PRCA is the only “sports” organization tin the country that keeps its disciplinary records secret.

Calf roping is the NFR event most frequently targeted by animal rights groups. It was renamed "tie-down roping" by the PRCA a year ago apparently to deflect criticism.

Notice that Wolf makes no mention whatsoever of why animal rights groups “target” this particularly inhumane event. Calf roping is a particularly brutal event that injures and kills many baby animals every year.

The PRCA has instituted rules to protect calves, including limits on size and weight and a "jerk down" rule that disqualifies a roper if he jerks the calf to the ground while roping it.

The PRCA's "No Dragging of Calf" rule issues fines ranging from $25 to $250 and event disqualification if a calf is dragged after being roped, even if the movement is unintentional.

That rule was enforced in Tuesday night's fifth of 10 NFR performances and might have cost Blair Burk a PRCA world championship.

Burk was first in the world standings and would have been tied for the NFR aggregate lead after his calf roping run of 7.6 seconds. But within the six seconds the calf must remain tied, Burk's horse began to back up and the calf was dragged a few feet.

Burk's run was disqualified, wiping out what would have been a third-place finish worth $8,819. The lost run also dropped Burk out of contention for winning a $37,898 bonus at the end of the NFR if he had the best aggregate total in his event. Had the time counted, Burk would have started Wednesday's round tied for the aggregate lead.

Burk paid a hefty price for the PRCA's animal welfare effort.

Especially considering the fact that SHARK investigators documented calves being dragged at PRCA rodeos across the country throughout the season, Burk ended up taking the fall in the PRCA’s defensive PR campaign. Local TV news shows and newspapers were covering SHARK’s evidence of rodeo animal abuse. Before, during, and after NFR performances, SHARK’s Tiger Truck was bringing the images of shocking animal abuse to the streets of Las Vegas. The PRCA was in siege mode and had to prove it makes at least some effort to limit animal abuse. What’s ironic, however, is that Blair Burk was disqualified by the PRCA for dragging a calf a “few” feet when this same organization sanctions steer roping which is so brutal that animals are routinely crippled or killed in the arena. Philosophical consistency and intellectually honesty are definitely not strong points of the PRCA or the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The pressure being put on rodeo groups seems to be a battle between people from urban areas and people from rural areas, though Hindi said many of his group's members own or have owned horses.

"It's clear there are a lot of different thoughts about the western lifestyle and how some people view what we do," PRCA commissioner Steven Hatchell said. "Less than 2 percent of our society is agrarian based. This sport works hard from an educational standpoint and (animal welfare rule) enforcement.

Oh yes, they work hard at it. They employ Cindy Schonholtz as their “Animal Welfare Coordinator.” Schonholtz does nothing to promote the welfare of rodeo animals. Her sole purpose in this role is to defend the cruelty inherent in this so-called sport and attack it’s detractors. SHARK finds it interesting that Schonholtz is also involved in at least two organizations dedicated to promoting animal abuse.

"We're not perfect, but we do work at it."

Hatchell and other PRCA officials said that when a video such as the one produced by SHARK is delivered to the PRCA, it is examined first for authenticity and then to determine if the rodeos it depicts are among the 670 sanctioned annually by the PRCA.

Jim Nichols, PRCA director of rodeo administration, said contractors have been fined based on violations captured in the tapes.

"We've levied fines based on what we've seen on videos sent to us," he said, adding that submitted video "helps us and can be a deterrent to stopping someone from breaking our rules."

We’d like to see just who got fined and how much. But, of course, that’s top secret. Given the pervasiveness of the PRCA’s deceptions, just how believable is this?

Animal rights activists often claim their efforts are ignored, and their skepticism is reinforced because the PRCA, a nonprofit membership organization, does not publish or publicly reveal the fines it levies.

Not only does the PRCA refused to publish fines, this “nonprofit” is not listed with GuideStar the National Database of Nonprofit Organizations. As financial information regarding not for profit organizations is public information, SHARK has requested copies of 990 forms for the past 3 years directly from the PRCA. We can only assume they are refusing to comply as we have not received them.

"I see no problem with fines and see no problem with publishing fines," said Don Kish, one of rodeo's top breeders of bucking bulls. He has 450 bulls and 200 cows at his ranch near Red Bluff, Calif. Six of Kish's bulls are competing in the NFR.

"People have to answer for it when they break a rule," Kish added.

Not in the PRCA, Don! They do in the NBA. They do in the NFL. They do in the NHL. They even do in the world of boxing. But not in the PRCA!

But PRCA fines are not very significant -- no veterinarian on site results in a $200 penalty, and at least three violations have occurred this year -- and they are kept within the organization.

Mr. Wolf finally, at the 11th hour, makes a single statement that's not favorable to the rodeo interests.

"Our policy has been that the amount of fines has been confidential between the (PRCA) national office and the individual fined," Nichols said. "We may be getting to the point where we need to look at that. It might be time to change that policy."

Hindi said his group is opposed to any form of terrorism or violence. He calls some actions by the Animal Liberation Front or People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) "thuggery by punk thugs."

"It's way too easy to bust up some fur store windows and pretend you've done something for the animals," Hindi said.

But Hindi relies on verbal attacks, like calling the PRCA the "Rodeo Mafia." In a mass e-mail, he referred to rodeo contestants as "animal abusing sissy/cowards" and writing that PRCA officials and sponsors didn't attend last month's media conference because the "rodeo lurkers on this list may just want to crawl into a bottle of Jack Daniels (sic) after soundly beating their dog, wife and children (it's how they deal with stress)."

Steve Hindi takes a beating from Wolf for making derogatory statements about the PRCA. The real irony here is that a few days after this article was published, Wolf wrote another story about roper Cody Ohl and his anger management problems. ("Showing Restraint: Ohl staying in control" Las Vegas Review-Journal, 12 December 04) We find it ironic that after blasting Hindi for even suggesting that the rodeo crowd has violent tendencies, Wolf actually confirms Hindi's assertions. In this article, Wolf is completely supportive of Ohl. In order for Wolf to turn this into the heart-warming human interest story it's meant to be, Wolf has to include some instances of Ohl's violence. In a tricky piece of journalistic gymnastics, Wolf manages to just barely hint at a couple of Ohl's violent outbursts without providing any detail at all. He swiftly moves on to quotes from Ohl about how much he's learned and how much better things are now. Synopsis of the story: Thanks to counseling, Ohl now limits his violence and brutality to innocent animals only.

While ranchers and rodeo stock contractors disdain Hindi and others like him, Nichols shows more sympathy than anger toward rodeo's antagonists.

"They're just misinformed," he said. "They don't understand the sport and the western heritage and western way of life. If they knew anything about us they'd know we don't mistreat our animals. That's the furthest thing from our minds. Anybody who grew up in ranching knows how much we love our animals."

How could we be "misinformed" about what we've documented on film in rodeo after rodeo, year after year? The footage simply shows what it shows. It is for this very reason that video cameras aren't allowed at rodeos. We ask Jeff Wolf and the PRCA what is there to fear from a video camera? But we already know the answer to that. It lies in the hundreds of hours of cruelty footage we've collected.

SHARK has tried repeatedly to call Mr. Nichols to set up a meeting with him and other PRCA decision makers so that we can discuss just exactly how it is that we are "misinformed." For nearly two months he refused to return our many calls. Subsequently, we had a couple of phone conversations with him after he accidentally picked up his phone instead of letting him voicemail screen the call. He has flatly refused to meet with us. If there were indeed misinformation on our part, the man accusing us of being misinformed clearly has no interest in enlightening us!

People interested in reading the truth about the Rodeo Mafia should read the December 2, 2004 Las Vegas Bussiness Press article that accurately reported on our press conference. The article is in SHARK's History via the Media section.

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