Animal-welfare group releases video of Pa. pigeon shoot

Posted: October 11, 2012

HARRISBURG - The images are stark: men and teenagers drop-kicking wounded pigeons like footballs, stomping on them, slamming them against their heels until they explode.

The Illinois-based group SHark (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) says the images from a Berks County pigeon shoot last month are evidence that the shoots - the topic of a decades-long debate in the Capitol - violate state animal cruelty laws and that legislators and law enforcement should stop them.

"This is the worst cruelty I've seen in 20 years of doing this," said SHark spokesman Stuart Chaifetz.

Cindy Neel, general manager for Wing Pointe, the hunting resort where the shoot took place, said Wednesday that the owner, Joseph Solana Jr., was out of the country.

The fight to ban pigeon shoots is one of the longest-running issues in the state Capitol, dating to the late 1980s when the first protests over the infamous Hegins pigeon shoot in Schuylkill County appeared in national headlines, eventually leading to its closure in 1998.

Since then, pigeon shoots, which usually involve launching birds from battery cages to be shot at close range, have been held at private hunting clubs like the Philadelphia Gun Club in Bensalem.

In 2010, retired game-show host and animal lover Bob Barker donated $1 million to SHark to help stop the shoots. Since then the group has filed lawsuits, lobbied the legislature, and documented activities at the clubs.

The National Rifle Association's defense of pigeon shoots as a Pennsylvania "hunting tradition" has effectively blocked legislation to bar the shoots, animal-welfare advocates say, although this year for the first time a bill won approval by a Senate committee.

Despite the committee vote, there are no "set plans" to bring the bill to a floor vote before the session ends Wednesday, said Erik Arneson, spokesman for Sen. Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R., Delaware).

Heidi Prescott, a senior vice president with the Humane Society of the United States, said lawmakers won't vote to stop the shoots because they fear losing the NRA's endorsement.

"The cruelty at live pigeon shoots continues to escalate because our courts don't enforce the law and the legislature will not act, empowering the pigeon shooters to think that they can act with impunity," she said.

Meanwhile, efforts to bring charges against those who run pigeon shoots have been blocked by district attorneys in Bucks and Berks Counties.

"We don't make the laws in this office, we enforce them," said Berks County District Attorney John Adams. "The law says pigeon shoots are legal."

Adams said he would enforce an order by Berks County Common Pleas Judge Scott Lash regarding what constitutes the humane killing of wounded birds.

In his 2002 order involving a challenge to another pigeon shoot, Lash wrote that "at no time shall anyone kick, swing, stomp or otherwise abuse any bird."

Chaifetz said those are the actions he and others documented at Wing Pointe on Sept. 30.

Pennsylvania State Police spokeswoman Maria Finn said the video would be reviewed by the trooper who handles animal crimes for the agency.

The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery), called the activity he saw in the video "gratuitous cruelty."

"This shoot has absolutely nothing to do with hunting or sportsmanship, or any proud tradition," said Leach, who is chairman of the legislative animal-rights caucus and watched the video with his staff. "This is just a cowardly slaughter by people with no respect for animals, nature or themselves."

Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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