Animal-rights activists vow to keep eye on fair's rodeo

Saturday, July 25, 1998

The Daily Herald (Chicago and Suburbs)

By Christy Gutowski

What DuPage County Fair organizers characterize as part of America's heritage is being labeled by others as animal abuse.

Member of the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition will be among the thousands of fair-goers at the grandstand today for the annual rodeo – one of the fair's largest draws.

Animal-rights activists object to what they deem "inhumane" treatment of horses and bulls. The group last year videotaped rodeo animals being shocked with electric prods, kicked in the head and repeated jabbed with sharp spurs.

Later, the videotape was released to the news media and turned into the DuPage County state's attorney's office.

Coalition leaders won't say if they plan to protest the rodeo but did say they hope to videotape it again.

"We're going to have people watching very, very closely," coalition President Steve Hindi said.

Fair organizers say they will not allow videotaping.

Meanwhile, Hindi said he's outraged DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett hasn't pursued animal abuse charges against eh owner of the Lazy "C" Rodeo Co., based on last year's tape.

"It's against the law to torment animals in the state and yet they're slamming animals with spurs and shocking them with 5,000 volts of electricity," Hindi said.

Despite the group's claims, both prosecutors and the state department charged with investigating animal cruelty allegations say they haven't found enough evidence to file charges.

"However, we did determine some of the concerns were valid so we recommended the county fair put in different practices and procedures," said Laura Polastrini, a state's attorney spokeswoman.

This year, an official from DuPage County Animals Control will join a fair veterinarian to monitor the treatment of animals.

The Illinois Department of Agriculture also investigated the rodeo, based in downstate Jacksonville, after reviewing the tape and after the television show "Hard Copy" ran a segment about it.

But the department found no proof the company violated state laws protecting animals.

State agriculture officials said they never have brought charges against any rodeo in Illinois' history.

DuPage Fair organizers back the rodeo. They and rodeo owner Ray Cox says the tape made last year was doctored.

"We viewed the tape, and it had been edited drastically," said Bob Radkiewicz, president of the fair association. "It was obviously dubbed or messed with."

"They don't use prods to hurt the animals," added Wilbert Hageman, the fair's program chairman who oversees the rodeo. "Maybe to move them around, but it's nothing more to us than a pin prick."

Cox also defended his operation, which as been in business 41 years.

"I take better care of my animals than anyone else in the business," Cox said. "A lot of them I've kept for the 10 to 15 years."

He added the DuPage County fair hasn't allowed steer wrestling or calf roping in years.

Hindi denies the videotape was doctored and challenges the rodeo and fair organizers to prove it.

"I find abuses at every single rodeo, and I don't have to mix and match," he said. "These are people who pray to God before the rodeo and will wrap themselves in the American flag and then beat … an animal.

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