Gun club honcho's fireworks contribution sets off animal-rights group

Leo Holt
Leo Holt
Posted: July 03, 2010

The skies in Gloucester City will be filled with dazzling colors and thunderous blasts tonight thanks to local businessman Leo Holt.

Holt, whose family has owned marine terminals on the Delaware River in the city for decades, forked over $15,000 last month after the blue-collar town announced it couldn't fund its annual fireworks display. Holt Logistics Corp. issued a news release about the gift, and Holt was pictured on a local news Web site with the mayor, a councilman and the check.

But the Illinois-based animal-rights organization Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) says Holt's generosity doesn't extend to pigeons.

SHARK says Holt, as president of the Philadelphia Gun Club, fills the skies with buckshot and bloody bird feathers during pigeon shoots at the Bensalem-based club.

Tonight, SHARK is planning to "educate" Gloucester City residents about Holt's hobby during the fireworks display at the city's high school, contending that he used his generosity to gain publicity.

"He gave money to put the event on, and this was a big PR win for him," said Stuart Chaifetz, a local investigator with SHARK. "He put himself out in the public, so we're here to say what else he's done."

The gun club, which dates from 1877, hosts occasional pigeon shoots at which the birds are released from spring-loaded boxes and fired upon with shotguns as they try to fly away. Hundreds are killed at the shoots, SHARK claims, and an equal number are injured.

Holt's particular offense, SHARK said, was filmed by one of the animal-rights group's members. The video shows Holt collecting pigeons from the ground after a shoot and swinging them around, trying to break their necks with his hands, or allowing two dogs to have a go at them.

To SHARK, it's nothing short of a horror flick.

"This is hard-core cruelty," he said.

Holt could not be reached for comment yesterday, but in a statement supplied by the gun club's attorney, he said SHARK was part of the "self-righteous fanatic few" who planned to "disrupt and dishonor" the event.

Holt also mentioned the Independence Day tragedy that "galvanized the community" eight years ago.

On July 3, 2002, a young Gloucester City firefighter climbed the ladder of a fire engine during the city's fireworks display and proposed to his girlfriend. Early the next morning, he and two other firefighters tried to rescue three young sisters from a blazing home in the city. The home collapsed, and all six died.

Chaifetz said he wasn't aware of the tragedy initially but chastised Holt for using it to deflect attention and "incite" the residents of Gloucester City against SHARK. Chaifetz said he wasn't concerned that city residents might simply view Holt as the man who saved their holiday or a business owner who supplied jobs to locals for years.

"I consider myself much more in tune with the residents of Gloucester City than Leo Holt," he said.

Three or four SHARK members will be handing out fliers and showing the video on a television or laptop during the fireworks display at the high school, Chaifetz said, and won't be disrupting or protesting the event.

Police Chief George Berglund said he doesn't think residents will be very receptive.

"It's an emotional day for people here," he said. "I personally wish they wouldn't do it on this particular day, but they have the right."

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