Last night, the Pennsylvania Senate took a legislative action we’ve been pining to see for two decades: it passed a provision to ban live pigeon shoots as part of a larger anti-cruelty bill, which also includes a ban on the sale and consumption of dogs and cats for meat. The vote on HB 1750 was 36 to 12, with 21 Democrats and 15 Republicans coming together to stand against these forms of animal cruelty. The House has already passed a version of the animal cruelty bill that contained the ban on selling dog and cat meat, and the revised bill just needs to gain concurrence next week in the House before it goes to Governor Tom Corbett for his signature.
Live pigeon shoots are a disgrace, and they bear no resemblance to hunting. There’s no consumption of the animal, no pretense of “wildlife management,” no hunting license, no bag limits, no fair chase. There’s only pain and suffering and death of innocent creatures, for no good reason. Instead, target shooters can take aim at inanimate targets, whether trap or skeet or clay pigeons. Millions of Americans participate in that legitimate sport every day.
For The HSUS and The Fund for Animals, this is a particularly exciting advance – one that we need to close out in the coming days or weeks. We’ve been working hard to end this cruelty since the mid-1980s. Long before I joined The HSUS, I joined protests against what was then the largest pigeon shoot, in Hegins, Penn., as did other colleagues. Trapped birds were brought in from all over the place in boxes, then released just yards away from the shooters who killed and maimed them.
Thankfully, we worked through the courts to shut the Hegins shoot down in 1999. But other shoots occur, more or less clandestinely, throughout the state at private gun clubs, and the law is ambiguous on their legality. HB 1750 is designed to end the ambiguity, and to help prevent the killing of dogs and cats for human consumption. There are millions of companion animals killed for food in Southeast Asia, and HSI is working in China and other countries in the region to stop this practice, even as we are working here in the United States to stop it in its tracks as newly arrived immigrants bring that practice to our country.
The HSUS’s Heidi Prescott attended her first shoot in the 1990s as a volunteer and a wildlife rehabilitator. She came across a wounded bird who had been suffering for hours and was gasping for breath. The bird’s injuries were so severe that she helped to humanely euthanize the animal. The experience resulted in her making a personal commitment to never relent in her quest to ban live pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania, and she’s never turned away from that challenge, despite years of frustration and delays and adverse actions from lawmakers and from the National Rifle Association.
Today, Heidi, who has been making the rounds of Harrisburg for 20 years to push for ending pigeon shoots, was again in the state capitol, drumming up support for its final passage. “This is truly a momentous victory, and a day I have personally looked forward to for many years, from the day I held that injured pigeon in my hands and watched her die—all for no reason other than someone wanted to use her for target practice,” she said.
State Representative John Maher and State Senators Stewart Greenleaf, Dominic Pileggi, Pat Browne and Richard Alloway have been leading the charge to end pigeon shoots. Sen. Alloway, who helped get the anti-pigeon-shooting provision added to HB 1750 in the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a very avid hunter himself. Although a member of the NRA – which had threatened lawmakers with retribution if they supported the bill—Sen. Alloway and Majority Whip Pat Browne stood up to the lobby group, calling pigeon shoots indefensible. A huge thank you also to Sens. Daylin Leach, Jay Costa and Andy Dinniman for speaking out in favor of this bill, and to every humane organization in Pennsylvania and many national groups that worked tirelessly to get this bill passed.
Finally, a salute today to all of the people who have so valiantly worked to end this form of cruelty and contacted their lawmakers to advance this policy goal. The march to end animal cruelty is often a long and strained and frustrating one, and that’s been the case in spades with this campaign. But now we are just steps away from an important advance for our movement, and we must finish this task.