Group: High School Rodeo Cruel To Animals

Officials For Rodeo, Government Say Charges Unfounded

August 25, 2000

The State Journal-Register (Springfield, IL)


Gov. George Ryan is being asked to look into what an animal-rights group calls the illegal, cruel treatment of calves, horses and other animals during last month's National High School Finals Rodeo on the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

"The acts of rodeo are dangerous to animals," said Steve Hindi, president of the group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness.

Steer-wrestling and other rodeo events violate state law, said Hindi, who has been involved with animal-rights issues for several years.

Officials from the rodeo association and state government disputed Hindi's allegations, saying they are unfounded.

"None of the animal welfare rules we have were violated," said Kent Sturman, the association's general manager. Nor were any state laws broken, he said.

 Sturman said Illinois Department of Agriculture officials and veterinarians conducted twice-a-day inspections at the Springfield rodeo.

"They were very impressed with the way the animals were cared for and handled," he said.

Department of Agriculture spokesman John Herath added: "We had inspectors out there every day. No one saw firsthand anything that was a violation of the animal welfare act, nor did we receive any complaints from the public, including Steve Hindi, that there was a problem out there."

In a letter sent this week to the governor, Hindi wrote: "The events of this and other rodeos, including steer wrestling, calf roping and the bucking events, specifically violate provisions of the Humane Care for Animals Act that require humane treatment and prohibit cruel treatment, torment, overworking and abuse to any animal."

The act also bans "activity surrounding any fight between an animal and human for the purpose of sport, wagering or entertainment," the letter added. "Almost all the acts of rodeo involve a fight between an animal and a human, according to the definition of 'fight' in a dictionary."

During a Statehouse news conference Thursday, Hindi played a 38-minute videotape consisting of what he said was edited footage from the Springfield event. The tape depicted scenes from various competitions, including calf roping and bull riding.

Several scenes showed an animal and its rider in a pen, moments before they darted into an open part of the arena for competition. In some instances, while an animal was in the pen, a man appeared to reach out toward it, later putting something in his front pants pocket when the animal and its rider ran out of the "chute" or pen.

Hindi said the unidentified man was carrying an electric prod and had used it to give the animals a 5,000- to 6,000-volt shock. The prods, which are supposed to be used only to move an animal from one site to another, were employed at the rodeo to "induce a performance," he said.

Sturman, from the rodeo association, said he couldn't comment on the video because he hadn't seen it.

A copy of the videotape was sent to the governor. Ryan spokesman Dave Urbanek said he didn't know whether the governor had viewed it.

Urbanek said there is "no basis in law or in fact for any of (Hindi's) allegations."

Hindi said he seeks a "full criminal investigation" into the issue of rodeos. He also said he is asking the governor to seek charges against sponsors and promoters of the rodeo.

"Let's see what the governor does," said Hindi, 46, who lives in the Kane County community of Elburn.

Cellular One, one of the sponsors of the rodeo, has a long history of supporting events of interest to consumers, said company spokeswoman Julie Balmer. "We're pleased to count rodeo fans among our customers."

Other sponsors included national companies such as PepsiCo and Wrangler, along with local firms such as Steak 'n Shake restaurants and The State-Journal Register.

"We're not asking for new laws. We're asking that the current laws be enforced," Hindi said.

"I don't think there can be any question that these 3-and 4-month-old calves and these small goats are terribly stressed. They're just plain scared. They are sometimes injured and killed," he said, adding that no animals were killed at the Springfield event though a horse and a calf sustained leg injuries.

Hindi added: "That's not family entertainment. It's certainly not wholesome family entertainment, and it teaches young people violence and insensitivity against animals."

Rodeo officials, however, said their events help young people get a good education and instill positive values, such as commitment, responsibility and dedication.

"We're proud of what we do," said Mitch Miller, the rodeo association's marketing director.

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