Pennsylvania Allows Live Pigeon Shoots
Did you know shooting pigeons for sport in Pennsylvania is legal? Pennsylvania is the only state that does not consider pigeon shooting animal cruelty. Legislators, judges and district attorneys have decided pigeon shooting is exempt from Pennsylvania animal cruelty laws.
There is a long history of animal advocates demonstrating against live pigeon shoots in the state. An equally long history of attempted legislative bills to ban the practice rarely made it out of committee in Harrisburg (Pennsylvania state capitol). The most recent vote in December, 2011 sent the bill back to committee for review.
The belief is the NRA (National Rifle Association) has the undivided ear of Pennsylvania legislators.
What Constitutes a Pigeon Shoot?
Pigeons used in Pennsylvania pigeon shoots are captured in places like New York City where they are considered nothing more than pests. Some gun clubs go to the trouble of actually breeding pigeons in factory farms just so they can become target practice.
These “hunters” put living pigeons into mechanical launches that sit about 20-30 yards away from themselves and propel the birds into the air for target practice. Some will be shot while they are airborne; others are shot while on the ground.
The majority – about 70% — are not killed immediately and either suffer with gunshot injuries or drown if they happen to land in a body of water. Some birds are even tethered to the ground before a gun is aimed at them, thereby ensuring a kill.
For the injured birds lucky enough to be collected from the ground by trapper boys and girls — teenagers and children — they get to die early by having their necks wrung or heads cut off. Some are simply put in a barrel with other injured birds to suffocate. Injured pigeons who fall outside of the gun club’s property are left to suffer for hours or days before death claims them. Strange that this is called a sport by many.
Many hunters deny that the living creatures they hunt and kill are sentient beings, preferring to consider them property like chairs, cars and the like. If you destroy an inanimate object like a car or a chair, that object does not feel pain or suffering. Pigeons do.
Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), an Illinois-based animal advocacy organization, has been advocating for Pennsylvania’s pigeons for decades. It was founded in 1992 by Steve Hindi who managed to get pigeon shoots outlawed in Illinois.
Since 1990, he demonstrated against the pigeon shoots in Hegins, Pennsylvania. This particular shoot was held every year from 1935 to 1999. According to Animal People Online, “The Hegins pigeon shoot was stopped by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling which upheld the application of the state humane law against pigeon shoots – but charges have to be filed to be prosecuted.”
This fact is important to understand because the district attorneys in Berks and Bucks Counties refuse to prosecute pigeon shoots claiming they are exempt from the state’s animal cruelty laws. Most of the live pigeon shoots are held in Berks and Bucks Counties, in southeast Pennsylvania.
In 2010, Bob Barker — former game show host and animal philanthropist– donated $1 million to stop pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. The $1 million donation was given to SHARK; an organization that continues to film pigeon shoots at the Philadelphia Gun Club in Bucks County and the Wing Pointe Gun Club in Berks County.
Barker’s donation helped to fund the Octocopter, a remote control aircraft equipped with a camera that was later shot down while filming a pigeon shoot at the Wing Pointe Gun Club. It landed on Wing Pointe property and Pennsylvania State Police refused to investigate. Berks County District Attorney John Adams refused to prosecute Wing Pointe even though the shooting was in close proximity to homes in the area, clearly a danger to innocent citizens.
Court-appointed Humane Society Officer Johnna Seeton filed five counts of animal cruelty charges against the Philadelphia Gun Club In March of this year after videotaping gun club shooters leaving five pigeons that landed in the Delaware River, to die. Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler declined to prosecute, saying, “The shooting of pigeons in Pennsylvania is unquestionably legal.”
He did acknowledge the gun club has a responsibility to ensure injured birds are sought out and humanely killed after the pigeon shoot. Since the gun club had erected a Kevlar-based barrier to catch injured birds and hired someone to patrol the Delaware River near the club, D.A Heckler opined “these steps represent a good faith effort to comply with the obligations imposed by law.”
As reported in PhillyBurbs.com, Sean Corr, attorney for the Philadelphia Gun Club and avid pigeon shooter said Seeton’s actions are “an abuse of police power.” It should be noted that Corr is the same person caught on videotape by Steve Hindi of SHARK assaulting him as he attempted to videotape pigeon shooting at the gun club. Hindi was not on gun club property at the time of the assault. Corr eventually pled guilty to the assault and paid a fine of $187.44.
The Philadelphia Gun Club has been sued by an environmental organization called the Delaware Riverkeeper Network claiming violation of The Clean Water Act because the gun club pollutes the Delaware River with birdshot, casings and dead and dying pigeons.
In Philadelphia, a federal judge ordered the gun club to apply for a “national pollutant discharge elimination system” permit with state environmental authorities. The judge also ordered the club to pay $15,000 to the network. Corr calls it a nuisance settlement but it allowed the gun club not to admit violation of the Clean Water Act in the lawsuit.
In February 2010, Richard Shackleton, Long Beach, New Jersey Township Solicitor, was videotaped leaving the Philadelphia Gun Club and shouting “Go f— yourself, you rotten c—” to the two women videotaping that day. To make matters worse, Shackleton was videotaped at a Long Beach Township meeting refusing to apologize. Referring to his “c-word” diatribe Shackleton said “I think that’s what she is and I think she deserved it.”
When Stu Chaifetz, an investigator with SHARK asked Shackleton at a Long Branch Township meeting if he felt an apology is in order, Shackleton responded “absolutely not!” To this day, Shackleton remains in the role of Long Beach Township Solicitor.
These are but a sampling of the type of people who frequent and participate in pigeon shoots.
Pigeons are remarkable creatures. They feel pain and joy. They are the only non-mammal with the ability to recognize their own reflection in a mirror – scientifically considered to characterize higher intelligence.
Not only can a pigeon see colors, they can see the ultra violet spectrum that humans cannot. This makes pigeons superior lifesavers compared to people and they have been trained by the Navy for search and rescue of capsized ships because they can see and find the floating red and yellow life preservers much better and quicker than humans.
Pigeons mate for life and both parents feed and care for their young. A 2004 Oxford University study found pigeons not only navigate by the sun, but by following roads.
Pigeons were used in both World Wars for communication and intelligence gathering. French pigeon Cher Ami won the Croix de Guerre award in WWI and a pigeon named GI Joe won the Dicken Medal for his assistance in saving a thousand British soldiers’ lives in WWII. For more information on the positive aspect of pigeons, take a look at 21 Amazing Facts about Pigeons.
What Can Be Done?
SHARK’s efforts to bring an end to pigeon shooting in Pennsylvania continues. If you live in southwest Pennsylvania, consider volunteering to help with protests. Any Pennsylvania resident can complain to their legislative representatives. Find your rep through HSUS with your zip code. The fight for pigeons will only survive with the help of caring and committed citizens.
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All photos are from Wikipedia