Today, I was in Harrisburg advocating for the enactment of H.B. 1750, which would ban the eating of dogs and cats and end live pigeon shoots. I was joined by lawmakers from both parties and by representatives of the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, Federated Humane Societies of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania SPCA, the Women’s Humane Society, Humane PA and other organizations.
The ban on eating companion animals doesn’t seem particularly controversial, but, at least in the capitol, the idea of banning pigeon shoots has its detractors.
You’d hardly know it’s controversial, though, from talking to average Pennsylvanians or reading the major papers in the state, all of which condemn the shoot:
“Pigeon shoots are not hunting; they are slaughter, and they should be outlawed,” wrote the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Friday.
“It’s overdue. So inexplicably overdue,” wrote the Lebanon Daily News in July.
“Live pigeon shoots are not a sport – it’s a stain on Pennsylvania,” the Carlise Sentinel opined in August.
And the Republican & Herald of Pottsville had this to say just a few weeks ago: “There is no justification for using live animals as target practice.”
Within the all-too-large universe of inane cruelty to animals – a range that includes cockfighting, hog-dog rodeo, shooting bears over bait, rattlesnake roundups, captive hunts, dolphin drives and slaughter and more – there is still something particularly sickening and frivolous about live pigeon shoots. Think of shooting fish in a barrel and you’ve got the basic set-up.
Pigeon shooting in Pennsylvania has been under fire since I became active in the larger fight for animals in the mid-1980s, and there was literally a time when, if you were an activist on the East Coast, you would always know where you were going to be on Labor Day. You’d be in Hegins, Pennsylvania, a town nestled in a beautiful Appalachian county, but also a town that had acquired a dark and ugly distinction for the behavior of some of its citizens. Hegins was the site of the world’s largest one-day pigeon shoot, where a phalanx of shooters would slaughter birds released from boxes just 30 yards in front of them. It took almost no skill – only an unfeeling heart -- to participate in this butchery.
Mercifully, the Hegins shoot is no longer in existence. But other shoots occur, though more hidden from public view than ever. And that’s why we are lucky to have state Rep. John H. Maher and Sens. Pat Browne and Richard Alloway thrusting the issue into the spotlight and working to clear away the roadblocks and to help enact a statewide ban on the practice.
The chief political roadblock in banning live pigeon shoots throughout Pennsylvania has been none other than the National Rifle Association. Sen. Alloway, a hunter and longtime NRA supporter, has been particularly strong in standing up to the lobby group and calling pigeon shoots indefensible and indeed shameful. Under his leadership, a bill incorporating the prohibition on pigeon shoots with a ban on the killing or selling of dogs and cats for human consumption has emerged from the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Pennsylvanians are asking their state senators to support the measure and to ensure that it comes up for a vote in the remaining weeks of the legislative session.
Pigeon shooting is not hunting. There’s no sport and no stalking, there are no hunting licenses, there’s no wildlife management, there’s no consumption of the animal. It’s just a massacre of animals imported for the spectacle and thrown right up in front of the shooters. The NRA’s attempt to wrap pigeon shooting in the mantle of freedom has been rightly lampooned by people all across the political spectrum, but the best of the bon mots on the subject came from my colleague John Goodwin, commenting some weeks back on a privately held shoot at Wing Pointe Resort, just 40 miles from Hegins. “Thousands of pigeons will be shot and wounded or killed this weekend in an event that is no more sporting than shooting chickens coming out of a henhouse.”
On Labor Day, there was a shoot scheduled at Wing Pointe, a reminder that we’ve got a little way to go in putting the nails into the coffin of this particular cruelty.
“We won’t rehash most of the self-evident reasons that live pigeon shooting as a ‘sport’ in Pennsylvania has got to go the way of dog-fighting, chained bear-baiting and other once-popular animal abuse for entertainment,” wrote The Pottstown Mercury in August. And the Luzerne County Citizens’ Voice noted, “A true sportsman or sportswoman cringes at the thought of blasting away at pigeons released from cages only yards away.”
If you live in Pennsylvania, let your lawmakers know that continued inaction is shameful, and that they have a duty to stand up to the hollow arguments of the NRA, which has enabled this sadism for too long.