Ban rodeo 'cruelty,' activist asks

Eye of the beholder: Kane County officials debate whether animal handling is normal or abusive

Wednesday, May 13, 1998

The Beacon News (Aurora, IL)

By Ann Donahue

GEVEVA – Animal rights activist Steve Hindi Tuesday asked the Kane County Board to consider writing an ordinance to prohibit rodeo "cruelty" at the upcoming Kane County Fair.

The fair has two performances by the Big Hat Professional Rodeo scheduled for July 18. Hindi, president of the Chicago Animal Rights Coalition, claims rodeo officials commonly shock the animals, cut them with spurs and throw sand in the animal's faces to make them perform for the crowds.

"(Rodeos) have no place in any decent, God-fearing community and they have no place in Kane County," Hindi said. "It's not something to be condoned in a decent society."

Hindi asked the County Board to consider writing an ordinance that would outlaw what he considers to be inhumane practices in rodeos, like the use of "hot shots" – electric prods.

He noted a similar ordinance was passed by Pittsburgh in 1992, and the city hasn't hosted a single rodeo since then.

The Pittsburgh resolution prohibits the use of hot shots, bucking straps, wire tiedowns and sharpened spurs.

This resolution would "prevent the cruelty of rodeo, not rodeo," Hindi said. "The point is, you can't conduct a rodeo without cruelty."

Animals feel pain

But Rudy Calzavara, owner of Big Hat Professional Rodeo, said Hindi is mistaken.

"I've tried to put this diplomatically," Calzavara said in a phone interview from Lebanon, Mo., where the rodeo is based. "We take really good care of our livestock because we make our living off of them. Livestock is a large animal and sometimes they get contrary…we don't use the hot shots or whatever to do anything but to humanely move the animal from one place to another."

Calzavara said the hot shots that Big Hat Professional Rodeo use are of very low voltage and that the animal feels only a little prick when shocked.

"It's not like a stun gun or anything," Calzavara said, adding that a human can easily withstand a shock from the device.

But Hindi maintains patrons would be disgusted if they saw what went on behind the scenes at a rodeo. He said he has both photographic and videotaped evidence of how rodeo workers prod a tame, domesticated animal into becoming an angered horse that's capable of throwing a rider.

"The spectators don't even see it," Hindi said. "The animals can feel pain just like us – they can feel fear."

Hindi has previously protested shows by Big Hat Professional Rodeo in both Kendall and Boone counties. And while he won't rule out demonstrations at the Kane County Fair, he said he prefers to gather more evidence for his cause by attending the rodeo and documenting what goes on at the show.

But Calzavara said his rodeo would not be sanctioned by the International Professional Rodeo Association if there were any mistreatment of the livestock in his show.

No actual abuse

Sheila Lehrke is the humane director at the IPRA, and she said there are definitive guidelines that rodeo must follow.

Lehrke said rodeos can be penalized for not having a veterinarian at every rodeo and that only healthy animals can be used. Sharp spurs are not allowed and hot shots can only be used "when necessary." If there are egregious problems, the rodeo can be put out of business, she said.

This was also the conclusion reached by Dr. David Bromwell, director of animal welfare for the state Department of Agriculture, who has seen a video of Hindi's and visited several rodeos throughout the state.

"Some of these things you have to take with a grain of salt," Lehrke said, referring to Hindi's campaign. "You have to take a look at some of these videos he has, the way they're edited, and you don't get a warm fuzzy feeling about what you see – but you see no abuse there either."

"It's just in the eye of the viewer," Lehrke added. "When Steve looks at it, he sees something (wrong)."

IPRA Executive Director Ronnie Williams agreed.

"Getting into a pen with a 250 pound calf, a 600 pound steer or a 2000 pound bull and trying to convince it to right when it wants to go left puts a new perspective on animal handling," he said.

Kane County Board Chairman Mike McCoy asked Hindi to supply a copy of his rodeo videotape and of the Pittsburgh ordinance for him to look over.

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