SHARK asks Bucks County SPCA and Women’s Humane Society to stand up against Philadelphia Gun Club pigeon shoots––as WHS founder did
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2013:
PHILADELPHIA––Five years into an ongoing campaign to stop pigeon shoots held at the Philadelphia Gun Club for at least 125 years, Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi on March 26, 2013 made public his frustration with 101 years of inaction against the gun club by the Bucks County SPCA, founded in 1912, and 97 years of inaction by the Women’s Humane Society, following the 1916 death of founder Carolyn Earle White. “The last thing we at SHARK wish for is to be at odds with people from a fellow humane organization,” Hindi began in an open letter to Bucks County SPCA president Anne Irwin, read aloud in a YouTube video. “That said, we have for years made quiet overtures to the Bucks County SPCA, to no avail. With cruel, indefensible and illegal pigeon shoots continuing in Pennsylvania, including and especially in Bucks County, local humane organizations must execute their missions to end this longstanding abuse.” The Philadelphia Gun Club, located in Bensalem, six miles from the Women’s Humane Society, is among the last facilities in Pennsylvania to host pigeon shoots. A July 1999 Pennsylvania Supreme court verdict that pigeon shoot promoters and participants may be charged with cruelty halted the last public pigeon shoot in the state, held on Labor Day for 65 years in Hegins, a small town north of Harrisburg. But the Pennyslvania Supreme Court in January 2004 refused to hear an appeal of a 2002 ruling by the Superior Court of Berks County that pigeon shoots held at private gun clubs do not violate state anti-cruelty law if “reasonable efforts” are made to minimize the resultant animal suffering. The Berks County ruling came in response to efforts by Pennsylvania Legislative Action Network humane officer Johnna Seeton to prosecute pigeon shoots in Berks and Schuykill Counties.
Hindi contends that “reasonable efforts” are not made to minimize animal suffering at the Philadelphia Gun Club shoots. “Current Pennsylvania humane law addresses the issues of abandonment, cruelty and neglect, all of which occur during a live pigeon shoot,” Hindi wrote to Irwin. “SHARK has plenty of video documentation, as well as the testimony of rehabilitators and veterinarians, that can be used to press for prosecution. We cannot file cruelty charges, but the Bucks County SPCA can.”
Conflict of interest?
In August 2010, a cruelty case brought by Seeton against Philadelphia Gun Club president Leo Holt got into court. But Bucks County district attorney David Heckler asked the court to drop the charge, conditional on the gun club making a $200 donation to the Bucks County SPCA. “That could be attributed to Heckler’s relationship with attorney Sean Corr,” Hindi charged. Corr, convicted of assaulting Hindi in a separate case, has campaigned for Heckler’s re-election. Because of this association, Heckler in 2012 withdrew from a case brought against Corr for allegedly stealing a political campaign sign belonging to a Democrat who was running against his sister, Republican state representative Margaret Quinn. Corr represented the Philadelphia Gun Club as a member of Eastburn & Gray, a law firm which Hindi identified as “a major financial donor to Heckler’s campaigns.” Bucks County SPCA board member Eric Tobin is a senior partner at Eastburn & Gray, his employer since 1974. “Bucks County SPCA is not the enemy,” responded Irwin. “I am informed that Sean Corr is no longer employed by Eastburn and Gray, and that no other lawyer at Eastburn and Gray [now] represents the Philadelphia Gun Club.” Hindi was not mollified. “SHARK’s criticism of the Bucks County SPCA is not for failure to make positive change. Our criticism is for not attempting to make change,” Hindi emphasized. “The mission statement of the Bucks County SPCA is, ‘To enforce the anti-cruelty laws of the state, to educate, and employ all available means to prevent and alleviate the suffering of animals within the County of Bucks.’ There is no one from the Bucks County SPCA preventing or alleviating the suffering of the victims of the Philadelphia Gun Club pigeon shoots.” E-mailed Irwin to ANIMAL PEOPLE, “To my knowledge members of SHARK have called us on three different Saturday afternoons to send someone to the vicinity of Philadelphia Gun Club because of injured birds. On two of those occasions our staff member Nikki Thompson responded and started out toward Bensalem. On both occasions she was called back before she got there and told to disregard [the calls]. The third time she responded that we did not have anyone to send, but if people wanted to bring in the birds, we would take care of them. I have instructed my staff in future to respond every time, regardless of how busy we might be. The Philadelphia Gun Club is about 25 miles from our shelter and travel time tends to be 45 minutes or more,” Irwin said. “That does not stop us. There is another humane society in Bensalem Township about six miles away. I don’t know what their response has been.”
The Women’s Humane Society has not responded either to repeated inquiries from Janet Enoch of SHARK, or to an inquiry from ANIMAL PEOPLE. Both the Bucks County SPCA and the Women’s Humane Society have endorsed proposed legislation to more clearly establish the illegality of pigeon shooting in Pennsylvania, but the bills have not advanced beyond committee. “I have been active working on legislation for nearly 30 years and have a solid record of accomplishment in getting laws improved in Pennsylvania. The bill to ban pigeon shoots is the only thing that will prevent this ongoing cruelty,” Irwin told ANIMAL PEOPLE. NewspaperArchive.com shows that Anne Irwin volunteered for the Bucks County SPCA at least as early as 1974. By 1983 she had succeeded her mother, Jo Irwin, as Bucks County SPCA president. But ANIMAL PEOPLE found little public record of either Irwin speaking out about pigeon shoots. Anne Irwin did address pigeon shoots, however, after Schuylkill County Judge Cyrus Palmer Dolbin ruled in 1998 that Pennsylvania humane officers could not investigate cases outside of their own counties without prior court permission. Upheld by an appellate court, the ruling briefly protected the Hegins pigeon shoot organizers from prosecution for cruelty. “It’s very difficult for the agencies that are in Schuylkill County to get involved in the Hegins pigeon shoot,” Irwin told Tracy Jordan of the Harrisburg Morning Call, “because they risk losing community support for all the other work that they do.” “Those fighting for the humane treatment of Bucks County pigeon shoot victims currently come mostly from Illinois,” where SHARK is headquarted, 750 miles away, “and New Jersey,” Hindi reminded Irwin. “The few people involved from Pennsylvania are not from your organization. There is an enormous difference in the way local media treats activism involving ‘outsiders’ versus locals. Be there for upcoming shoots,” Hindi asked Irwin. “Contact the media regarding your efforts to end pigeon shoots. File cruelty charges––as many as appropriate, as many times as needed. If you and your board are unwilling to execute your duties as the leadership of the Bucks County SPCA, then please resign without further delay,” Hindi finished.
Won case in 1890
Women’s Humane Society founder Caroline Earle White, 1833-1916, likely would have delivered a similar message to her successors. White headed the Woman’s Humane Society from 1869 until her death, along with the American Anti-Vivisection Society, which she founded in 1881. “Pigeon shoots and fox hunts received her vigorous condemnation and led her to advocate laws for their prohibition. She championed bird preservation before the advent of the Audubon Society and helped to secure protection for the Atlantic shore birds,” recalled Sydney H. Coleman, himself a legendary figure in the early humane movement, on page 183 of Humane Society Leaders in America, published in 1924 by the American Humane Association. White at least once successfully prosecuted Philadelphia Gun Club pigeon shooters. The January 27, 1890 edition of The New York Times reported that club member A. Nelson Lewis was convicted by Judge Harman Yerkes of cruelty to animals for participating in a December 1887 shoot at the original club headquarters in Andalusia, Bucks County. The club moved to the present site along the Delaware River in 1894. “In his opinion, Judge Yerkes declared that the act of March 1869, under which the indictment was framed, is intended to bring all brute creation under the shelter of the law,” The New York Times recounted. A Civil War veteran who practiced law for 63 years and for 20 years was president of the Bucks County Court, Yerkes called pigeon shooting an “offense against public morals, which the commission of cruel and barbaric acts offend.”