Groups wrangle over bull-riding proposal

By Michael Risinit
The Journal News
June 23, 2008

CARMEL - Putnam County lawmakers will be digesting the DVDs and other materials they've amassed concerning the pluses and minuses of rodeos. No decision is expected until next month on whether the county will consider outlawing rodeos or bull-riding shows, such as the one proposed in Patterson.

"We're going to review what we learned (Thursday) night from both sides and come to a decision," Legislator Dan Birmingham, R-Brewster, said Friday.

Birmingham chairs the Legislature's Rules Committee, which heard testimony last week from a rodeo company's owners, a representative of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, a state Horse Council representative and several animal-rights advocates. The meeting was the committee's second concerning such a ban.

Birmingham said the committee at its July 9 meeting will decide whether or not to put legislation in front of the full nine-member board, either banning rodeos and similar events or prohibiting the use of electric cattle prods. Minimal use of such devices, powered by flashlight-sized batteries, is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.

But those devices, along with sharp spurs, tight straps and other abusive practices, said Steve Hindi of the Illinois-based Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, are why legislation prohibiting such events is needed. On Thursday night, Hindi showed the committee a DVD highlighting bulls, horses and calves being inappropriately shocked, yanked against stall doors with ropes, and being tripped and clotheslined during calf-roping events. "This is not the way for the United States of America to treat animals," he told the committee.

At one point, Legislator Sam Oliverio, D-Putnam Valley, who is not a rules committee member but was among several other legislators listening to the speakers, left the room because he was "disturbed" by Hindi's video. "I've been an animal advocate for years. This sets my stomach on fire," he said.

But Hindi's video and testimony were rebutted by Cindy Schonholtz of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and others. Electric shocks, she said, are used to get stalling horses safely out of the chute, so they don't injure themselves or the riders. The abuses shown in Hindi's video, Schonholtz added, were culled from hundreds of hours of events and doing that can make any activity look unattractive. Veterinarians are on site at all times and rules are enforced, s he said.

"I can say I've never had a vet complain to me about the treatment of animals," said Schonholtz, who is the PRCA's animal welfare coordinator. Jeri Camputaro of Double R World Championship Rodeo, based in Greene County, said the aversion to rodeos stems from society's disconnect with the country's agricultural past.

"They have no concept of living and working with large animals," Camputaro said, explaining cattle prods are the only way to move a 2,000-pound, untrained bull.

Whether the proposal by Patterson landowner Robert Pfister moves forward remains unknown. His family owns the land where the Westview Golf Driving Range and Abruzzi Trattori sit on Route 22. A sketch showed the event taking place behind the businesses.

Town Planner Rich Williams said last week that there's been little movement on the matter. Pfister said Friday that he was interested in seeing what the Legislature decides. He said the promoter wanting to bring such a show to Patterson, Sergio Ramirez of Wingdale in Dutchess County, was considering hiring an attorney to protect his interests.

According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, several municipalities across the country have banned rodeos, Fort Wayne, Ind., San Francisco and St. Petersburg, Fla., among them. Others have enacted various restrictions, such as prohibiting the use of spurs or electric prods once the animals are in the chute.

"This behavior has been outlawed for a reason," Neil Platt of Southeast told the legislators.

Legislator Mary Conklin, R-Patterson, though, questioned why rodeo participants would abuse their livestock since the animals "are their bread and butter." She also questioned whether the county needed a no-rodeo law. "If we have a rodeo and people don't want to go, they shouldn't go," Conklin said.