If one thing has been proved in the latest chapter in the epic battle to end Pennsylvania's pigeon shoots it's this: individuals participating in this cruel "sport" may torture pigeons and assault protesters with impunity.
The latest evidence came Monday when Dauphin County Magisterial District Judge James Lenker dismissed 83 cruelty charges against Erdman Gun Club north of Harrisburg and Don Bailey of Strausstown, who provides thousands of pigeons to Erdman and other gun clubs each year.
Lenker tossed the charges despite being presented with three hours of testimony and graphic video from the Erdman shoots showing wounded pigeons dumped in barrels and left to languish and a "trapper boy" beat a wounded pigeon with a bucket.
"It was blatant cruelty," said Johnna Seeton, the humane officer who filed the charges on behalf of the Commonwealth and who has for decades monitored shoots and rescued wounded birds.
The defense presented no argument.
In his ruling Lenker uttered comments that appeared ripped from the NRA playbook about pigeons shoots being "steeped" in tradition in Pennsylvania (this despite the fact that only three survive and many license plates of participants are from New Jersey)
The decision keeps intact the present Catch 22: Humane officials are powerless to file charges because the courts fall back on the fact there is no explicit law banning the shoots. The legislature has long held that the courts should determine if it constitutes animal cruelty, although that may finally be changing. albeit slowly.
District Attorneys in Berks County and Bucks County have refused to allow cruelty charges to be filed against gun club owners in their counties.
Even more surprisingly, in those same counties, pigeon shoot supporters have harassed and threatened, had weapons brandished at them and even outright assaulted protestor Steve Hindi of the anti-cruelty group SHARK and none have faced charges.
(A hearing in Warminster on disorderly charges against both Hindi and an employee who works for the owner of Wing Pointe Gun Club in Berks County - which holds pigeon shoots - was scheduled for today.)
The Pennsylvania Game Code states that a hunter must track wounded game and humanely dispose of it. But pigeons are not covered under the code, Seeton said. Nor are they, according to the courts, covered by animal cruelty section of the crime code.
Why is a pigeon in Pennsylvania considered a species not deserving of any protection whatsoever?
Many people across the nation nurture and raise pigeons in backyard and roof-top coops. Some race their pigeons known for their homing abilities. This keen instinct turned legions of pigeons into messengers during the world wars. They delivered vital information to allies that helped change the course of those wars.
People love their pigeons. Just take a look at the American Racing Pigeon Union website. They maintain a 911 pigeon alert Yahoo group to find and rescue missing racing birds.
What if the gun clubs sprung popular pet birds with fancy colors like parrots or parakeets from steel boxes to be blow away at 30 paces? Would the courts and DAs act differently?
After the hearing, Seeton raced back to the Capitol to make a late-hour attempt to get the Senate to take action on a bill to ban pigeon shoots. The bill (SB626) was passed out of the Judiciary Committee last month - a landmark victory for animals that came despite strong NRA opposition.
"We need legislation banning pigeon shoots," said Seeton, in the Capitol Rotunda, still in her humane officer uniform and wiping sweat from her brow.
A Senate spokesman told me he did not expect a vote before the Senate breaks for the summer later this week.
2011 is a landmark year for Seeton.
It marks a quarter century since she started her quest to end pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania.