Animal activists go on attack

January 23, 2008
Peoria Times-Observer
By Becky Rundall



A sense of excitement was the reaction for most attending the "Worlds Toughest Bulls and Broncs," rodeo at the Peoria Civic Center Jan. 11 and 12.

No so for North Peorian Monica Ball.

The event provoked protests by animal activists and clandestine filming of animal treatment inside.

On Jan. 11, Steve Hindi, founder and president of SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness, videotaped David Morehead, the owner of Three Hills Rodeo Company, as he allegedly administered electric shocks over the course of the evening to several horses and a bull that were not behaving in a manner befitting the show's billing.

For instance, one horse -- billed as a bucking bronco -- did not automatically start bucking the cowboy when it was time to leave the chute.

As an animal activist, Ball said she felt frustration about the rodeo, and that frustration did not leave when the rodeo did.

Ball is not alone in her frustration.

One might think the organizations that decry cruelty against animals would be on the same side, and mostly they are. But in Peoria, frustration abounds. One the tape, Morehead appears to be using an electric prod on the horse -- delivering a 5,000 volt jolt -- according to Hindi.

After the alleged jolt, the horse instantly began bucking. Morehead, it appears, then slips the device back into his pocket. There are several similar incidents in the film.

Hindi edited the video, added narration to explain what was happening and issued the film, along with a press release to the media, the Peoria Police Department and the Peoria Animal Welfare Shelter on Jan. 15.

By that time, the rodeo was long gone. Then frustration levels began to rise. Asked for a response to the press release and film, PAWS director Lauren Malmberg expressed frustration at being informed about the incidents several days after the acts had taken place, when it was too late to intervene. Hindi, she said, "came into Peoria and videotaped without notifying the authorities. He could have called us or the police -- either could have issued a notice of violation and stopped the cruelty."

She also wondered why Hindi did not call the emergency number for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which enforces regulations concerning animal welfare.

Malmberg pointed out that Hindi is an approved humane investigator for the State of Illinois, and questioned why he did not use his authority to issue a ticket to Morehead at the time he witnessed the cruelty.

She explained that the humans and animals involved are now out of PAW's jurisdiction, so she is unable to investigate the incident.

"Hindi should go to the state's attorney and provide his documentation," Malmberg said.

But Malmberg pointed out that PAWS -- or its partner, the Peoria Humane Society -- would be unable to testify because they were not present during the incident.

Malmberg says that PAWS receives and acts on complains from the public about various traveling exhibits featuring animals that come to Peoria, including the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus, the Heart of Illinois Fair and Great Cat Adventures exhibit at the Shoppes at Grande Prairie.

The humane society's Web site explains that all reports of cruelty or neglect and investigated within 24 hours, and that animal control officers are on duty 24/7 for emergencies, which Malmberg confirmed.

"We usually investigate within one hour of a report," she said.

Ball said she feels frustrated, too.

She is a member of the Peoria Area Voices for Animals, which she describes as a “loosely affiliated” activist organization that works to raise awareness about animal cruelty issues by educating the public.

They have participated in the annual Great American Meatout, encouraging people to pledge not to eat meat for at least one day. Most members of the group are vegan, a few are vegetarians, but all are opposed to cruelty to animals.

The group demonstrates at rodeo events, circuses, fur stores, Kentucky Fried Chicken stores and puppy mills.

Ball and other group members demonstrated against the rodeo outside the Peoria Civic Center Jan. 11.

Ball’s frustration about the treatment of animals at the rodeo was compounded by what she considers a “blow-off” response by PAWS to Hindi’s request for action. Ball said the response was “pretty typical. The request was not treated with seriousness.”

Ball acknowledged that she has had no direct experience with PAWS bust says, “If you think something illegal’s been done, you should pursue it.”

For her part, Malmberg said that Hindi’s press release was only the second time she had heard of PAVFA.

Hindi said his frustration level is mounting, too.

For years, his group has investigated Morehead and his company. His press release states that Morehead has been “warned by the Illinois Department of Agriculture to stop shocking the animals,” and that Morehead has been convicted of animal abuse in Pennsylvania.

Hindi insists the rodeo producer on the night in question, was in clear violation of the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act.

Hindi confirmed that he is a humane investigator with the State of Illinois but says that the position confers limited authority.

When asked why he did not approach Morehead about he violation, he said he doubted that Morehead would have been impressed.

When asked why he did not approach police officers who were present, he said they more than likely were acting as paid security guards and would not have taken action. When Asked why he did not contact the Department of Agriculture, he said that currently the office is more obstructive than supportive when it comes to protecting animals.

Instead, Hindi says, he “kept quiet and filmed with the intent of bringing the tape to the authorities afterward.”

He compared his group’s investigative style to that of undercover cops. They, he said, want to “stick around and see who’s involved and how deep it goes.”

When Hindi contacted the Peoria police on Jan. 15 about the incident, a sergeant told him to contact PAWS. He hoped PAWS would help bring criminal charges against Morehead.

According to Hindi, Malmberg told his assistant that “they should take care of it themselves.”

Hindi is frustrated the police and PAWS “are the local authorities, but we have to come forward ourselves.”

All of the players – Malmberg, Ball and Hindi – are frustrated about the inhumane treatment of animals, allegedly by someone who has been cited again and again for cruelty. But in addition, Malmberg is frustrated with what she said is Hindi’s unrealistic expectation of PAWS. Hindi and Ball are frustrated with what they consider inaction on the part of the “authorities.”

Though they share the same goal, none could find common ground. A copy of the tape is in the hands of Peoria County state’s attorney Kevin Lyons.

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