Former sex kitten honors local animal activist

Thursday, March 8, 2001
The Beacon News (Aurora, IL)
By Denise Crosby

Just when you think Steve Hindi couldn't pull any more headline-grabbing stunts, you find out he's gone Hollywood.

Or, at least, he's heading that way.

When I caught up with him on his cell phone on Wednesday, he was driving through the mountains of New Mexico on his way to Beverly Hills for a rendezvous with Brigitte Bardot.

OK, so he's not actually going to meet the legendary sex kitten turned animal activist in la-la land, but on Saturday, at a star-studded event at the Beverly Hills Hilton, the European television network ARTE will receive the Brigitte Bardot International Genesis Award for its outstanding efforts to improve public awareness of animal issues.

Steve Hindi, unquestionably the Fox Valley's most outrageous and controversial animal activist, was the messenger behind the message.

Last October, an ARTE documentary team profiled Hindi and traveled with him to rodeos in Arkansas and Texas for 10 days, where he helped them film what he described as repeated "violations against the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association's own "humane rules."

Hindi says the resulting documentary entitled, "A Bas le Rodeo" (Alone Against the Rodeo), and debuting on the Animal Planet channel in May, showed the same type of cruelty that his group SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) has exposed at rodeos in the Chicago area as well as all across the rest of the country.

"We were deluged with support from E-mail with support from Europe after the documentary aired, and are very pleased that ARTE has won such a prestigious award," says Hindi.

The fact that Hollywood and Hindi finally connected might not come as much of a surprise to some critics.

For years, the 45-year-old Geneva man have found his way into front-page stories and onto six o'clock news shows with his scene-stealing, in-your-face brand of protest.

He once chased down a minister for running over an opossum on the highway and not stopping to help the animal. He's confronted and taunted hunters at private clubs; even flown aircraft over hunting grounds in order to disrupt nests of geese. He's snuck video cameras behind the scenes at rodeos and pigeon shoots, then used the footage to raise money and outrage to help his cause. He's been arrested for trespassing, convicted of assault for spitting at a security guard and has even served jail time for violating a restraining order against protesting at a hunting club.

For just as many years, some of his detractors have wondered if his love for animals isn't superseded by his love for center stage.

Hindi, however, says the only reason he craves the spotlight is because "we want to see animal cruelty stopped, and the best way to do that is to get it out in front of the public." Hindi plans to do a lot of that on this West Coast trip, as well as to attend the black-tie awards dinner that, he says, will feature hundreds of celebrities and politicians.

He's traveling to the Los Angeles area in a $150,000 "Tiger Video Truck" that is equipped with 100-inch big-screen televisions set up on all four sides to graphically depict cruelty to animals at rodeos, bullfights, pigeon shoots and in Korea, where dogs are hung upside down, then beaten because of the belief that meat from tortured canines helps a Korean man's sexual prowess.

The video truck made its debut on the streets of Las Vegas in December at the National Rodeo Finals and "drew people like a magnet," he says.

It did the same thing several weeks ago in New York City's Times Square, where Hindi was protesting what he described as NBC's "fluff piece" on rodeos.

"Wherever we go, we shock," he says of the impact these videos have on people passing by. "Wherever we go, we own the street."

Hindi is actually a whole lot more excited about showing off this roving video truck than in attending the awards ceremony, which will be the fourth time a project he was associated with has been honored by Bardot.

Hindi says he plans to park "The Tiger" at the Korean embassy in L.A., where he will show footage of the tortured dogs to officials, there, as well as anyone passing by.

He'll also meet with a group of international journalists interested in doing stories based on the video footage SHARK has shot in the last few years.

Hindi also plans to travel to Germany to ask automaker Daimler Chrysler to withdraw its sponsorship of rodeos. Thanks in large part to SHARK, he says, Pepsi withdrew all advertising at bull fights, and, in November, Coke pulled out of all rodeo competitions.

While inroads have been made on the corporate level, Hindi isn't so happy with what's going on locally.

His repeated attempts to get Kane County officials to pull the plug on the rodeo held each year at the county fair have failed, so he's planning to bring the Tiger home and hit the streets – with all four claws, ah, TV sets, sharpened and ready to run.

Never one to think small, Hindi already has plans for a fleet of Tiger video trucks that will be on the move, both nationally and internationally.

If that means being in the spotlight more, he says, then so be it.

"Until people start dealing with the issue," he says, "I'm not going to go away."