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Police rodeo returns to fairgrounds

Thursday, September 17, 1998

The Gurnee Review (Gurnee, Illinois)

By Denys Bucksten
STAFF WRITER

After a two-year hiatus, a police-sponsored rodeo will again take place at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake this Friday and Saturday.

This year the Gurnee Police Department Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 266 will host the rodeo, which starts at 7:30 p.m. both nights and will run about two hours, said FOP organizer Ken Heerdegen.

A family pass is $29.95 and will admit two adults and two children.

For several years, up through 1995, the Lake County Sheriffs FOP sponsored the event as a fund-raiser for charities. There was no FOP rodeo in 1996 or 1997.

This year, the rodeo is back and so are some of the criticisms of the historic American sport. The same livestock company that supplied the past FOP rodeos, Barnes Cattle Co., of Peterson, Iowa, is putting on the events this year.

Also, as in the past, the rodeo is being sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which accredits about 730 rodeos each year and lists 11,000 members nationwide, said spokeswoman Cindy Schonholtz.

Did it die?

Controversy ensued at the Sept. 17, 1994 sheriff's rodeo when activists said a steer's death of a broken neck was covered up by police sponsors and Barnes employees.

Steve Hindi of the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition said the steer was carried off on a metal fence after a cowboy jumped on the animals and it dipped end over end, breaking its neck.

Shortly after the motionless animal was carried off, rodeo announcers directed attention to a steer entering the competition area, saying it was the same animal and had been temporarily knocked out.

Hindi and other activists claim the dead steer was hidden in a darkened stall and the "recovered" steer was simply a new animal.

Schonholtz said the PRCA supports statements by Marty Barnes, son of the owner of Barnes Cattle Co., that the animal was temporarily stunned after falling in an unusual position but recovered a short time later.

Activists, including Hindi and the Barrington-based Northwest Animal League, as well as a Pioneer Press account from June 1, 1995, suggest otherwise.

The Pioneer Press article quoted an eyewitness to the alleged disposal of the animal, a 17-year-old volunteer handler, who said he saw the dead animal hidden in a dark stall and that he and others were told to keep quiet about it by rodeo organizers.

Activists charge that had the rodeo workers and volunteers who carried the steer from the arena believed it was stunned, they would have been far more cautious about a 700-pound animal coming to life and beginning to kick.

The Gurnee FOP's Heerdegen said, "I know about the incident, and no steer died."

Viewpoints

For the rodeo spectator, the excitement is in seeing a bucking bronco or 2,000-pound bull explode from a chute, trying to unseat a daredevil cowboy, in watching brawny competitors leap from a galloping pony and wrestle 700-pound steers to the ground; or simply in taking in the panorama of men and animals working in tandem against the backdrop of a summer sunset.

But critics like Hindi charge that rodeos are inherently cruel, driven by cruel handling tactics needed to goad otherwise docile animals into acting unnaturally wild.

Gurnee Police Chief Bob Jones stressed that the rodeo is a union-sponsored event and has no connection with the police department.

"It's not the Gurnee Police Department in any way, shape or form," Jones said, adding that he wished a union representative had discussed the promotion with him beforehand, even though they would not be required to do so.

"I wish they had spoken to me on whether or not this might bring some discredit to them and the FOP," said Jones, adding that he isn't informed enough on the rodeo issues to have a feeling about it "one way or another."

Telephone calls to Barnes Cattle Co. on Wednesday were not answered.

Animal activists say Barnes as well as other rodeo suppliers, often use sore-inducing flank straps on bucking animals, and use high-voltage stun guns to enrage steers and bulls held motionless in chutes before they explode into the arena.

Critics cite routine tactics by handlers of tail twisting, pulling a tail tautly across metal fence bars, and the rough grabbing or soft nostrils to anger and intimidate rodeo animals.

Schonholtz argues that rodeo animals don't need to be stunned with a hand-held, high-voltage "Hot Shot Power Mite," or mistreated. Instead, she said, horses and bulls are "trained to buck" upon being released from the chute. Enraging them prior to their release would needlessly dissipate the aggression and energy the animal would otherwise expend during the event, she said.

"Normally," Schonholtz said, "the stock handlers keep the animals as calm as they can while they're in the chutes."

Also, she said, tactics such as using a Hot Shot while an animal is held immobile in a chute are strictly against PRCA policy, which outlawed the practice in 1995. The use of a Hot Shot, as intended by its manufacturer, is only to move a large animal from one location to another, if it is reluctant.

Hindi said the Hot Shot delivers a 5000-volt jolt that is painful to an animal and not just a quick, harmless sting as its users claim.

Inventive Tactics

Hindi, who has been jailed several times over the years for trying to obstruct or aggressively picket legally sanctioned events such as rodeos, pheasant shoots and organized deer kills, has also been inventive in trying to rally support against any improper use of the Hot Shot.

"I've zapped myself with it," he said, "and it's truly painful. I've asked PRCA officials to try it on themselves so they can see how bad it is, but I've had no takers." Their stated view is that it's relatively painless, but bovines have a high sensitivity to electrical shock."

Hindi, who said he has attended hundreds of rodeos over the years and documented many cruelties on videotape, said rules publicized by groups such as the PRCA are just public relations and don't really deter cruel treatment of the animals.

"I've never seen a clean rodeo, but Barnes is one of the dirtiest," he said.

To which Schonholtz replies, "These rules are serious and we are not looking the other way (when infractions occur). Our judges can't catch everything, but when they do, the handlers are fined."

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