Humane Society probes cruelty charge against VC rodeo handler

July 23, 2003

The Valley Roadrunner (California)

By David Ross

The San Diego Humane Society is investigating charges of animal cruelty that allegedly occurred in May during the Valley Center Rodeo.

Specifically, the Humane Society's law enforcement division is looking into charges stemming from a videotape that apparently shows a bull being shocked by a man with an electric prod while it was in the chute waiting to be ridden.

The videotape was allegedly filmed by a woman named Pat Vinet, who is a member of an animal rights activists group known as Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK). She turned the videotape over to the Humane Society and to Channel 10 News, which carried a story on Thursday night.

Vinet claims to have videotaped six other similar incidents at area rodeos.

Humane Society spokesman GiGi Bacon Therberge told The Roadrunner, "It is illegal to use an electric prod once the animal is in a pen. If it's not being used to protect people then that's illegal."

She wouldn't comment on the particulars of the investigation, except to confirm that it originated from the videotape.

Gina Mitchell, chairman of the Rodeo, was asked to comment by The Roadrunner. She said, "We didn't know anything that was happening until we saw the video of the alleged incident and we aren't at liberty to say anything at this time because it's under investigation."

Nicky Lovejoy, president of the VC Chamber of Commerce, told The Roadrunner that she had spoken by phone to an investigator from the Humane Society.

"They said they won't hold the Chamber responsible. Whoever was running the rodeo would be responsible. They said they are not going to charge us with responsibility," said Mrs. Lovejoy.

Although the Humane Society is a private nonprofit organization, the state has given it powers to investigate allegations of animal cruelty and then turn them over to the District Attorney if they warrant further action.

SHARK is an organization that has since its founding in 1993 campaigned against rodeos all over the country, and documented its charges with videotapes.

It is an organization that holds that animals have "rights," distinguishing it from organizations such as the SPCA, that are concerned with the welfare of animals.

The stock company that was hired by the Chamber, through its rodeo committee, to run this year's rodeo is Misner and Sons, out of Riverside County.

They were in charge of running the rodeo and handling the animals.

"The law does provide that management could be responsible for anything that happens," said Therberge.

Whether "management" in this case includes the Chamber would be determined during the course of the investigation, said Theberge.

However the law itself is pretty specific: Sect. 596.7.(3)(e) of the California penal code, (enacted in 2000), says (e) The rodeo management shall ensure that no electric prod or similar device is used on any animal once the animal is in the holding chute, unless necessary to protect the participants and spectators of the rodeo.

(f) A violation of this section is an infraction and shall be punishable as follows:

(1) A fine of not less than five hundred dollars ($500) and not more than two thousand dollars ($2,000) for a first violation.

(2) A fine of not less than one thousand five hundred dollars ($1,500) and not more than five thousand dollars ($5,000) for a second or subsequent violation.

Beau Beaureguard, former captain of investigations for the Humane Society and SPCA, told The Roadrunner that such investigations are rare. "There are not that many complaints against the rodeos. There were less than five in the three years I was there. This is the only one I have heard of having to do with a hot shot.

"This type of piece of equipment is used within livestock rodeos. But there's strict guidelines when people put on rodeos. Unless it's to prevent injury of a human they can't use it. We have to look at the whole scope of things. There are acceptable ways of doing things and unacceptable ways of doing things."

The PRCA, Professional Rodeo Cowboy Assn., which did not sanction the VC Rodeo, also has rules against using the "hot shot."

Cliff Bernard, a VC resident who was involved in 250 rodeos over a ten year period as a calf roper, and former NPRA champion, told The Roadrunner: "Using a cattle prod is a common occurrence in the cattle industry. However, using a prod during a rodeo competition to enhance an animals performance is not only illegal but highly unethical."

"The top organization is the PRCA and they have very strict rules regarding this type of behavior," he said. "Amateur rodeos such as the NRPA attempt to follow and adopt the PRCA standards and policies, but they have nobody to police what is going on. It's an honor system for most of these lower rodeos. Unfortunately, it takes a videotape and picture before some stock contractors do a better job of policing the people who work for them. Most stock contractors do not even know it is happening until they are confronted with this type of evidence."

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