Rodeo company hit with citations

Humane society goes after stocker of San Dimas event after viewing videotape of cattle prod use.

November 2, 2002

Inland Valley Voice (California)

By Joanna Corman

The company that stocks the San Dimas rodeo was cited Friday by the Inland Valley Humane Society for using a cattle prod at the event.

Growney Brothers Rodeo Co. of Red Bluff, Calif., was cited four times for its use of a hand-held cattle prod that delivers an electric shock at the San Dimas rodeo last month. Three employees were caught on videotape using the device, also called a hotshot, four times, said Bill Harford, the humane society's executive director.

"We felt that hotshots were used to enhance performance and not to protect the animal or the cowboy," Harford said.

The hotshot was used on horses saddled up with a rider, standing in a chute just before entering the arena.

John Growney, owner of the Sacramento Valley rodeo company, said a hotshot was used several times because stalled horses posed a danger in the chute. The company provides all the animals for the San Dimas rodeo.

"I think they're wrong and I'll challenge it," Growney said. "The law allows us to use the hotshot for the safety of the cowboy and the safety of the horse."

There are two instances in which using hotshots are allowed, said Cindy Schonholtz, animal welfare coordinator for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Assn. The San Dimas Western Days Rodeo, held annually each October, is a member of the association.

Cattle prods can be used to move large animals and on animals that stall in a chute. A stalled animal could injure itself or the rider. But using a hotshot on a stalled animal can only be done if the judge, rider and stock contractor agree, Schonholtz said.

The humane society called but Schonholtz said she never spoke to an investigator. Nor has she seen the video, she said.

The misuse of hotshots is rare, she said. "I have attended a lot of John Growney's rodeos and I've been to his ranch and his animals are well taken care of," she said.

The humane society was alerted to the alleged abuse when an Irvine woman wrote a letter and an animal activist group in Orange County sent in a videotape. It wasn't clear if the woman was a member of the group, Harford said. Humane Society officials compared that tape with one filmed by Adelphia, a cable TV firm. The tapes showed Growney Brothers employees using a hotshot on six horses, Harford said. Four times it looked as though the person using the device "tried to hide it," he said.

In one instance, it appeared as if the horse was going to endanger the cowboy and so no citation was issued, Harford said. In another case, the use of the hotshot was "indecisive," he said.

Once issued the citation, Growney will have to appear in Pomona Superior Court, where he faces a fine of $500 for one offense and up to as much as $16,000 for all four.

Gary Enderle, chairman of the Western Days rodeo, said he has never seen a hotshot used in any of the event's eight years. The rodeo follows rules outlined by the association and the state regarding use of the devices.

"If in fact these are violations, we are already taking measures to see that in our future rodeos there will be no misuse of the hotshot," Enderle said.

That could mean asking the stock contractor to leave animals susceptible to stalling at home, or placing a humane society official or rodeo board member in the chute.