Rodeo critic meets with ag officials

July 31, 2001

The State Journal-Register


An anti-animal-abuse activist met Monday afternoon with state Department of Agriculture officials to show alleged instances of animal cruelty at last week's National High School Finals Rodeo.

Afterward, a department representative said the complaint will be reviewed.

Steve Hindi, founder of Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, also held a press conference at the Capitol Monday, a day after completion of the rodeo, to present video excerpts he said showed calf roping, animals being prodded to perform and a lack of adequate shelter that violate Illinois' Humane Care for Animals Act.

"(State officials) have really done the state a disservice" in not adequately policing the rodeo, Hindi said. "We don't care about the rodeo one way or another. We're interested only in ending the animal abuse."

He was critical not only of the Department of Agriculture but also of the governor's office and The State Journal-Register for helping to sponsor the event.

John Herath, spokesman for Agriculture, said Hindi showed up at the agency's offices after the press conference, and that state officials had sat down and talked with him.

"He's going to supply us with information, and we'll talk to him about it," Herath said. "We looked at parts of his video. We haven't reviewed the whole thing. Obviously, our prime concern is that if there is something happening to an animal, we want to correct it. We encourage anyone who sees something abusive to tell us about it. Our main concern is taking corrective action."

Herath said Agriculture had staff on the Illinois State Fairgrounds throughout the weeklong rodeo. He said stock was moved into the junior livestock building on really hot days, and fans were made available. Tarps and shade netting also were provided to stock on the rodeo floor.

"Some of our staff secured extra water tubs and hoses on their own to make sure water was available in all the areas," he said, noting that some ag employees did see what they considered excessive behavior in the treatment of the animals.

"There were incidents where we took corrective action. I can't give an example right now because I haven't gotten the reports back," he said. "To speak generically, there were animals not being handled in the way we thought they should. We went back and told them how we thought they should handle the animals."

This was the second year of a two-year stint for the rodeo finals in Springfield. No decision has been made on whether the event will return, but if it does, it will not be until 2006.

Rodeo officials did make some changes this year, partially as a result of Hindi's videotapes of last year's rodeo, including limiting the use of electric prods.

Hindi agreed that there was much less use of the cattle prods and fewer cases where animals' tails were twisted to anger them. Most of the video footage from the 2001 event showed calves that were injured, dazed or unconscious as a result of being roped around the neck.

"There were a lot of changes from last year," he said. "I don't think it was better this year, but there was less shocking, less twisting and more shelter. It's important to have a humane rodeo, and it was somewhat less brutal in some areas."

But, Hindi said, some events are inherently bad.

"Someone asked if we were opposed to all the events. There's a number of events I don't feel are cruel, or at least excessively so, such as pole bending, barrel racing, breakaway calf roping .. . also team penning. There could be a humane rodeo."

Steve Hindi, president of SHARK, demonstrates at a news conference the choking he says occurs during calf roping.