Activists: Abuse still at rodeos

Friday, March 27, 1998

The News Sun (Waukegan, IL)

By Jerry Lawrence

Springfield – A Chicago-based animal rights group is charging that the state Department of Agriculture has failed to enforce animal protection laws at rodeos, allowing cruel abuses the group says it has on videotape.

Steve Hindi, president of the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition said that if the laws were enforced, rodeos would essentially be banned from the state. The prohibition would include those held at the Illinois State Fairgrounds.

Hindi said he spent a year visiting more than 30 rodeos in Illinois and across the country where he said he saw bulls, calves and horses being kicked in the head, having sand thrown in their eyes and being shocked with more than 5,000 volts of electricity. At a news conference earlier this week, he played a videotape that appeared to show all the actions.

But Dr. David Bromwell, director of animal welfare for the Department of Agriculture, said he had seen the tape and that he didn't see any actions that violated state law to the point that merited prosecution. "A lot of these things are in the eye of the beholder," he said. "There was nothing that I could see that could substantiate a case that could be prosecuted through a court of law."

Hindi said when he began visiting rodeos last year he intended only to document abuses and try to put a stop to them. Now he believes there appears to be no way rodeos can be held without the abuses, he said because rodeo personnel abuse tame animals to make them act wild.

"Electric prods are being sued to force the animals to perform in a way that they otherwise would not," Hindi said before playing the tape, culled from a Boone County rodeo and two DuPage County rodeos that showed men poking the bulls with a long rod covered in a towel. He said the towels are sometimes moistened and used for better conductivity.

Rodeo personnel do this because 50 percent of a rodeo riders score comes from the performance of the animal, Hindi said. "If you have a bull that comes out and just trots around, you don't have much of a rodeo," he said. "The cowboys are not real cowboys and the wild animals are not really wild."

Bromwell said that when he saw the bulls being shocked, it was often by people sitting on the fence who were trying to get the bulls to face toward the outside of the chute from which they are released before rodeo events. Laws aimed at rodeos allow for the shocking of bulls on certain parts of their body to get them to move, he added.

Lazy C Rodeo owner Roy Cox of Jacksonville, who attended the press conference at Hindi's invitation, said he and his workers never use prods to make animals do anything other than move from one place to another and insinuated that Hindi's judgment of abuse may be skewed because Hindi has never worked extensively with livestock.

Bromwell said he and several field officers from the department have visited rodeos across the state and, so far, have not seen anything that would merit prosecution.

"There are things about rodeos that I don't necessarily concur with, but there is nothing that we have seen so far that substantiates a case in a court of law," he said. "If sand was thrown in the eyes or some activity like that, it would be a unique thing. Not something that happens every time."

He also denied Hindi's charge that the department is neglecting its duty to enforce animal protection laws at rodeos. "We haven't been complacent, we have been non-observant. We haven't seen anything yet that justifies bringing a court action," he said.

Patrick Hogan, spokesman for the department, said that several year ago, the department took action against a rodeo that had a practice called horse tripping. In that case, he said the rodeo company ended the practice at Illinois events.

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