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Life Arts    H1'ed 9/8/10

Hunting for Courageous Legislators: Pennsylvania Continues to Lead Nation in Animal Cruelty

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animal right

by Walter Brasch

Twenty minutes South of Harrisburg, Pa., on a two hour drive to her home near Gaithersburg, Md., Heidi Prescott shed a tear. No one else saw it, only one other person could hear it in her voice. It was about 9 p.m., Tuesday, June 29.

Prescott, senior vice-president of campaigns for the 11-million member Humane Society of the United States, values her reputation as a compassionate but tough lobbyist, but more than two decades of grief and hope was in that tear. For five straight days, she had driven to the Capitol; this would be the week, she was led to believe by the House leadership, that the Legislature would finally bring forth a vote to ban live pigeon shoots. But, in a late night deal, the Legislature had come to a decision about the next year's budget, and that meant it would recess before voting on the bill to ban pigeon shoots.

Every Tuesday, when the Pennsylvania legislature is in session, Prescott spends five to 10 hours working the 50 state senators and 203 representatives, every one of whom she knows by name and by their political beliefs. She seldom eats, rushing from office to office, sitting, waiting, and talking. To staff. To elected officials. To anyone who will listen.

With logic and facts, Prescott, who has been to more than 50 shoots, explains that placing scared and undernourished birds into a small cage, and then releasing them only 20 yards in front people with 12-gauge shotguns is not only cruel but not a sport. She explains that most of the birds, sometimes as many as 5,000 at a shoot, are hit by the shot within five to 10 feet of the cages, with many shot while standing on the ground or on the cages themselves. She gives names of life-long Pennsylvania hunters who oppose pigeon shoots because they aren't "fair chase hunting," and emphasizes that even the Pennsylvania Game Commission doesn't call pigeon shoots a sport. She tells everyone she talks with that the International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shoots as cruel and inhumane after its only appearance in the 1900 Olympics. She tells stories of underage drinking and illegal gambling at the shoots. She almost tears up when she tells about a spectator at one shoot who stomped on a live bird after he ripped it from her hand. She cites statistics that show that 70 percent of all birds aren't killed by the first shotgun blast, but are wounded, many left to die in agony over two or three days if they aren't first picked up by paid trapper boys, some as young as eight years of age, who wring their necks, stomp on their nearly dead bodies, or stuff them live into barrels to suffocate.

Spectators ripping the heads of live birds, throwing them in the air like footballs, and impaling live birds on plastic forks are not normal activities, she points out. To emphasize the widespread opposition to pigeon shoots, Prescott points out that more than 80 percent of all Pennsylvanians oppose the pigeon shoot, and explains why almost every daily newspaper in the state and dozens of organizations, from the Council of Churches to the Pennsylvania Bar Association, have formally opposed this form of animal cruelty. But most of all, she tries to embarrass the legislature by pointing out that Pennsylvania is the only state that allows people to openly kill live pigeons in organized contests, and that most of the shooters come to Pennsylvania because they would be arrested in their home states if they participated in pigeon shoots. Each pigeon shoot, she says, teaches children that violence and animal cruelty are acceptable practices.

Deliberate and patient, Prescott counters several arguments by legislators. To those who believe bans should be local options not the function of the state, Prescott points to innumerable legal precedents that allow the state to act, and that if local jurisdictions were allowed to make such laws, there would be a patchwork of conflicting local ordinances. To those who believe pigeons are merely "winged rats," and that the shoots get rid of vermin, she explains that all life is sacred, but that most of the pigeons are either captured out of state or are bred specifically to be killed. To those scared by fear-mongers in the National Rifle Association (NRA) and a couple of organizations that were bred solely to support pigeon shoots and who believe that banning pigeon shoots infringes upon the 2nd Amendment rights to bear arms, Prescott carefully explains that absolutely nothing in proposed bills or amendments would restrict firearms ownership or usage. The NRA, says Prescott, has misrepresented its members, "most of whom would never support or condone pigeon shoots." Some say that banning pigeon shoots would be the "slippery slope" to gun restrictions. "Some representatives and senators are just dense," she sighs.

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Walter Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor of journalism emeritus. His current books are Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution , America's Unpatriotic Acts: The Federal Government's Violation of (more...)
 

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