Pigeon shoots are technically legal in the state of Pennsylvania, but cruelty toward pigeons is not. Two gun clubs in two Pennsylvania counties hold pigeon shoots, aiming their guns inside of a loophole based on an 1891 Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision that overturned the animal cruelty conviction of a participant in a live pigeon shoot.
In the brief written about the decision, the Court said that, "... were there anything in the finding of the jury to show that the object of this association was to torture pigeons we would not hesitate to sustain the judgment of the court below.”
Though pigeon shoots aren’t being prosecuted, they do violate Pennsylvania’s anti-cruelty statute, 5511. This is because the gun clubs routinely starve pigeons and fail to provide them with water for several days prior to the shoot, so that they will be easier targets. Once hit and injured, most of the pigeons are abandoned and left to suffer before they die.
Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, otherwise known as SHARK, investigates and campaigns against pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania, among other animal-related acts of cruelty. SHARK believes that the pigeon shoots are still legal because of the close ties some politicians may have to the gun clubs.
Stuart Chaifetz, an investigator for SHARK from Cherry Hill, N.J., weighs in on shooting pigeons for sport.
Is anything being done to try to stop the pigeon shoots?
SHARK is fighting hard against pigeon shoots in PA, and we are fighting on every front. We are on the ground at pigeon shoots, documenting cruelty and rescuing wounded pigeons. We have fought in the courts, in the media, and in the legislature. We’ve shown the absolute horrors of pigeon shooting with our videos from the killing fields and those who commit that violence by releasing the names of pigeon shooters. In every way, SHARK is working to end pigeon shoots once and for all.
When did SHARK get involved with this cause and why?
SHARK has been fighting pigeon shoots since the early 1990’s, when the annual Labor Day shoots were a major issue. When we discovered that pigeon shoots were happening in Illinois, we took immediate action and we won—pigeon shoots were shut down for good. The lesson is that we can win these battles, but there has to be a strong group of local people willing to help. Unless PA residents and groups are going to stand up, the battle to shut down shoots will be infinitely harder to win.
What do you personally like about pigeons? Why are they special? What has made this particular issue personal for you?
It’s not that pigeons as a species are special, but that every animal is special. They are all unique beings who deserve our protection.
Anyone who thinks negatively about pigeons needs to watch our videos and see the birds that we’ve rescued. Look into the eyes of a wounded bird as they rest in our arms, or the baby pigeon who had his head cut with a knife before being shot and you’ll see why this is such an important issue.
Pigeons have also saved human lives. In World War I, a homing pigeon named Cher Ami is credited with saving an army battalion during the Battle of Argonne.
Where do these gun clubs get the pigeons? How are the birds treated before the shoot?
There are many sources for the birds, including from pest control companies and people stealing them from the streets of cities, such as New York.
The birds we’ve rescued are emaciated and starving to death, meaning that they have not been fed or given water for days before the shoot. The truth is, the cruelty starts the moment the birds are captured and continues until long past the shoot has ended.
What are some of the worst things you’ve seen personally on protest day?
Without question, the worst things we see are the birds being killed. The animals that die at the shooting range are either blown apart or struggle terribly when they fall to the ground. That, however, only represents a small number of birds. Many pigeons are shot yet can fly away from the shooting area. The few that we can capture have a chance to survive, but most of the birds that are wounded and escape will die slow, pain-filled deaths over the coming hours and days.
We once rescued a bird a week after she had been shot. Think about how she suffered for all that time. Sadly, she passed away from the torment she had been through. Even the birds that escape the shooting area without being shot are most likely doomed to die, as they are so emaciated that they are often beyond the point of no return. Pigeon shoots truly represent animal cruelty in its most severe and vile form.
Where do you take the injured pigeons? What happens to them?
We work with wildlife rehabilitators and bird rescue groups. If they birds can be brought back to health, they will be released. If not, they have permanent homes.
Why should people get involved with this cause? How can they get involved?
If you care about the suffering of animals, if you want to end the nightmare of pigeon shoots, then please join SHARK and help us fight this battle.
If you live in PA, then we need you to also put pressure on PA animal groups to start fighting for this cause as well. The effort for legislation has been going on for more than 25 years without success, and it will continue to drag on unless things dramatically change.
Where can people go to learn more?
SHARK has a website dealing with PA shoots here.
What do you think about this controversial topic? Let us know in the comments.
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