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Pa.’s pigeon shoots inspire animal-rights group’s campaign

Accompanied by the rapid report of gun shots and the voice of Bob Barker, a wounded bird dances a macabre routine with flailing, flapping wings. The next frame shows a grounded white pigeon, then a bird with blank eyes feebly coughs up blood.

Barker, a noted animal rights activist and game show host, narrates a graphic, new television ad from Illinois-based SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK, the latest effort in a decades-long campaign to outlaw organized pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.

“Live pigeon shoots held in Pennsylvania are horrific, brutal acts of animal cruelty,” Barker tells viewers.

The ad will air on CNN and Fox News in parts of the state beginning Sept. 15, the day lawmakers return to Harrisburg for the fall session. In June, the Senate Justice Committee approved a pigeon shoot ban in a 10-4 vote, positioning it for a vote in the full chamber.

Erik Arneson, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, said the bill is in “active discussion.” But with four weeks left of the session, it is among hundreds of bills the General Assembly will be urged to vote on, he said.

Pennsylvania is one of the few states without an outright ban on the activity or court decisions defining it as animal cruelty, according to the Humane Society for the United States.

Heidi Prescott, senior vice president of HSUS, began lobbying against pigeon shoots more than 20 years ago.

The society and other animal rights groups have attempted to ban pigeon shoots nearly every year for the past 25 years. The National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates oppose a ban, calling it a slippery slope to hunting restrictions.

“It’s very frustrating to see the bill stalled year after year,” Prescott said, “but it’s incredibly sad because the weight on my shoulders is always knowing that every time we fail, tens of thousands of animals are going to suffer.”

Organized pigeon shoots occur at private facilities. A captive bird is released, and participants use a shotgun to take it down, attempting to land it inside a scoring circle. Organizers may snap the necks of those that don’t die instantly. Prescott said the “unlucky” ones fly away injured, spending hours or days dying in the woods.

Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, said groups charging animal cruelty use emotional tactics to mask their larger mission: restricting other forms of hunting.

“It’s a manipulation of public sentiment over caring for animals into advancing an agenda that will not benefit them, or their family and heritage,” said Stolfer, who lives in South Fayette.

The NRA has sent emails to supporters urging them to tell their lawmakers to vote against the ban. Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, said the caucus doesn’t have a unified stance on the bill, and members can “vote with their conscience.”

The proposal, House Bill 1750, bans using live animals, including birds, as targets, and makes it illegal to sell dogs and cats for slaughter. Bill sponsor Rep. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, considers himself a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. Animals as tethered or presented targets, he said, have nothing to do with hunting.

“Being in favor of the right to bear arms doesn’t mean being in favor of using them for cruelty,” Maher said.

Melissa Daniels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8511 or [email protected].


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