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Hola es su centro para mantenerse informado, compartir ideas y conectarse con recursos. (Hola is your hub to stay informed, share ideas, and connect with resources in northern Illinois.)

Boone County committee votes to ban steer tailing. Here's a closer look

Boone county animal show ad hoc committee member Dara Mogenis speaks during a meeting on December 5, 2023.
Maria Gardner Lara
Boone County animal show ad hoc committee member Dara Mogenis speaks during a meeting on December 5, 2023.

A Boone County board committee reviewing rodeo ordinances passed a motion to ban steer tailing this month. It’s the sole event held at Mexican-style rodeos in the county.

The organization behind the drive for the ban is S.H.A.R.K., Showing Animals Respect and Kindness. The nonprofit animal rights group has heavily campaigned for the ban on the Mexican-style rodeos around the country including at Boone County.

Steve Hindi leads the nonprofit. In remarks in a recent video posted on his group's social media page, he said, “There’s something very, very, wrong in Boone County. The place reeks of corruption. We’ve identified three board members who will support these cruel rodeos no matter how much evidence we pile up.”

Hindi also claimed that the Boone County State’s Attorney’s office is working to protect the rodeos.

The page reaches thousands of followers from around the world and his posts often include a call to action for supporters to contact government officials who he feels haven’t taken the action they desire.

Some targets of S.H.A.R.K. tell WNIJ the group goes too far and that the tactics amount to harassment.

S.H.A.R.K. is registered in Geneva, Illinois. In 2020, tax returns show the organization had net assets around a half a million dollars, including $200,280 in contributions. In 2021, contributions were $297,735 and net assets were $374,429.

2021 Tax Form
2020 Tax Form

S.H.A.R.K. is also a party to a lawsuit against the county regarding the permitting of the rodeos. According to reports, the animal rights group argues that the county is not enforcing laws on animal cruelty, even though it's submitted videos demonstrating animal abuse.

In an interview with Hindi in November, he said one of the things that he finds cruel about the Mexican Style rodeos is participants’ use of long electric prods to move the animals—but his beliefs run deeper:

“We are opposed to all rodeos because all rodeos treat animals cruelly,” Hindi said.

He hasn’t called for a ban on American rodeos, such as the events held at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

Hindi said he focuses on banning the Mexican style rodeos in the county because he finds them to practice a larger degree of cruelty compared to American rodeos.

PETA, a national animal rights group, advocates for a ban on all rodeos.

Rodeo operators tell WNIJ that in the 2023 rodeo season, participants were no longer using those prods.

The Boone County ad hoc committee has been reviewing items regarding the Mexican-style rodeos held in the county since August. They’ve discussed defining what a rodeo is, liquor at the events and security, with no definitive resolution.

But when it came to steer tailing, the committee concluded on the item rather quickly and voted to ban animal tailing after holding discussions at the same meeting.

Board member Alisa Patterson opposed the move.

“I think we're doing a disservice to spend an hour and 15 minutes talking about this,” Patterson said.

"And we're going to vote on something without coming up with one thing that can make this thing safer for the steers, and for the riders,” she said.

Steer tailing is the only rodeo event held at Mexican-style rodeos hosted throughout the county. It involves a person on horse attempting to knock down a neutered male bull by its tail.

Prior to the vote, Dara Mogenis, a community member on the committee, played a video of incidents where animals were injured in rodeos held in the county. She’s a huge opponent of the Mexican style rodeos.

“It's very difficult for me and some of the other people here in the audience to think, 'How can it be done safely?,'” she said.

“And that would be a question to ask the rodeo participants, is there a safe way to do it? I can't see one.”

County board member Dave Wiltse said in addition to concern for the animals shown in the video, he’s also worried about those who may not visibly show any harm.

“How about all the other steers that didn't break anything?” he said .

“[The steer] ran 20 times in competition and stood in the pans and had pain from being dumped; fear from being in the chute again, to be run again."

County board member Alisa Patterson said she’s seen all of S.H.A.R.K. produced videos. While she doesn’t want animals to get hurt either, she finds it unfair to include videos filmed in 2022— prior to more recent code being implemented.

“There were differences between 2022 and 2023,” she said.

“And by continually mixing those things together, you're not getting a clearer picture of what's going on,“ Patterson said.

The county sheriff log of calls for 2023 regarding rodeos show a decrease in allegations of animal cruelty from the prior year.

In 2022, there were 19 rodeos held and five complaints alleging animal cruelty. This year, nine events were held and there was one allegation of an injured steer that’s under investigation.

Gracie Robles, a rodeo operator, said four of the nine rodeos this year were held on her property. She noted there were no complaints made in connection to her events.

Robles attributed the decrease in incidents due to the new codes.

“We are willing to do what we need to do,” she said.

“In some cases, when we aren't able, we're not holding an event.”

Beginning this year, veterinarians were required to be on call during the rodeos, participants are required to wear bib numbers, and there must be security personnel who are state licensed.

Banning electric prods is not part of the code. She said this year participants no longer use them.

Another issue that was discussed was the number of runs steers make in the competitions.

“They're not supposed to be overworked, they're given a break, but still are not meant to run over and over and over,” Mogenis said.

In response, Robles, the only rodeo owner on the committee, said steers don’t run nonstop. She said on average they rent 60 steers for the daylong events. They're divided into three groups and they rotate every hour.

County board member Sherry Branson and other members made comparisons to the competitions held in the county to professional rodeos and the associations that govern them.

But Robles says their events are different.

“These guys that come to our events are not professionals,” Roble said. "That's why we have to get this permit because it's an informal competition,” she said.

Board action

The committee voted five to three to ban animal tailing. Board member Tom Walberg voted against it.

He said he does not support animal abuse and believes it’s best if animal services handles allegations of harm.

“Those are the folks that really need to be dealing with these issues as opposed to county board members trying to regulate or create ordinances to fix a problem that we don't maybe totally understand," Walberg said.

Also, he doesn’t think the board should have rushed into making a decision that is complex.

“I certainly want to be mindful to all constituents in Boone County,” he said, “and give them every opportunity to voice all their concerns and try to make the best decision.”

What's next

All recommendations the committee makes will need approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals before it’s presented to the county board for a final vote.

County actions on the Mexican-style rodeos have been contentious. WNIJ has previously reported how some Latino leaders were concerned that some remarks made during board meetings in opposition to Mexican-style rodeos have been tinged with racism.

Nationally, the Los Angeles City Council recently voted unanimously to ban all rodeos, despite opposition from charreria aficionados and Professional Bull Riders, Inc., which annually visits the city as part of its Professional Bull Riders tour.

A Chicago native, Maria earned a Master's Degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield . Maria is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America. RFA is a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities. It is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit journalism organization. Un residente nativo de Chicago, Maria se graduó de University of Illinois Springfield con una licenciatura superior en periodismo de gobierno.
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