John M. Stewart, President The Florida Bar 651 E. Jefferson Street Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Dear Mr. Stewart:
On behalf of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, I would like to express our deep disappointment at the decision by The Florida Bar not to discipline attorney Thomas W. Cope for a disturbing incident of animal cruelty, and instead to have Mr. Cope attend a “professionalism workshop.”
In May 2019, Mr. Cope shared a video on his Facebook page of a raccoon that had found itself on Mr. Cope’s boat. At the time, the boat was approximately 20 miles offshore. In the video, Mr. Cope intentionally scares the animal off the boat into the water, and laughingly says, “So long, sucker!” The raccoon almost certainly drowned to death.
We believe that Mr. Cope’s actions were criminal, a violation of Florida Statute § 828.12. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission chose not to file charges due to a jurisdictional question, and not because the conduct was determined not to be serious.
According to The Florida Bar’s website, professionalism workshops are intended for lawyers, “whose conduct flirts with or just crosses the line into unethical conduct.” Examples given include rude comments, failure to communicate with clients, and lack of honesty. Surely, abandoning an innocent animal to suffer death by drowning is worse than a lack of communication or disrespectful comments! Attorneys in Florida have been more severely disciplined for less serious conduct. Thomas W. Cope should have been publicly reprimanded, had his license suspended or revoked, or been disbarred.
The failure to discipline Mr. Cope was a missed opportunity to demonstrate that animal cruelty is a serious offense in Florida. There is a well-documented link between animal cruelty and acts of violence against humans. Taking crimes against animals seriously makes our communities safer.
(Lakeport, Florida) — The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) is asking the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to investigate a recent incident in which wild pigs were released from cages and shot at close range by men using semi-automatic and automatic weapons, including an Uzi submachine gun.
ARFF has compiled the above video from photos and videos posted on Instagram by one of the men. The disturbing images show a group of four men shooting dozens of rounds as the terrified animals flee. Other live pigs wait nearby in cages. The bodies of several dead pigs can also be seen. The photos and videos were posted on October 16. The location was identified as Glades County.
“This is senseless, sadistic killing purely for entertainment,” said ARFF Campaigns Coordinator Nick Atwood. “Wild pigs are not unfeeling objects to be used for target practice. Have these men become so desensitized to the suffering and death of animals?”
ARFF is asking for an investigation into possible violations of hunting regulations, and regulations concerning the transportation and holding of live wild pigs. Although, as disgusting as this incident was, the men’s actions were likely legal. Shamefully, there are almost no laws protecting wild pigs in Florida. On private property, wild pigs may be killed year round, in unlimited numbers, using any legal to own firearm. No hunting license is required. The “non-native” designation for wild pigs has been used as justification for horrible acts of violence against these animals, cruelties that would not be ignored if suffered by deer or other “native” wildlife.
(Fort Lauderdale) — In July, in a disturbing incident that was caught on video, a wildlife trapper used an air rifle (BB gun) to kill Muscovy ducks at an apartment complex in Fort Lauderdale. Ducks were shot numerous times by the trapper; the bird’s deaths were not quick or humane. In addition, the trapper’s use of an air rifle was in violation of city ordinances.
City of Fort Lauderdale ordinance Sec. 16-52 is clear in its prohibition of the discharge of air rifles within city limits. The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) has urged the city to enforce its ban on air rifles, to prevent animal suffering and to protect public safety. Unfortunately, City Attorney Alain Boileau has refused, stating that, “the City is permitting licensed pest control companies and trappers to use air rifles.”
“We are disappointed that the City of Fort Lauderdale has failed to enforce it’s ban on air rifles,” said ARFF Campaigns Coordinator Nick Atwood. “There is no exception for pest control companies or wildlife trappers in the city ordinance. Enforcement of the ordinance would not only protect ducks and other wildlife from cruelty, but it would protect residents from injury. Modern air rifles are powerful, and can cause serious injuries.”
There are methods other than the use of air rifles that pest control companies and trappers can use to humanely kill ducks or other wildlife.
It is irresponsible for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to encourage homeowners to kill iguanas.
Despite the brief mention that iguanas are protected from cruel treatment under state law, the likely response to the FWC’s appeal will be that iguanas will be drowned, poisoned, shot with crossbows or pellet guns, or killed by other methods not humane or legal.
For the average homeowner, the biggest threat from these fascinating creatures is that your orchids or hibiscus plants will become their lunch– surely that does not warrant a death sentence!
(Kissimmee) – In a recent letter to Bahia Shrine members, executive officer Brian Johns explained, “Whereas our circus in the past has relied upon ticket sales for profit, that is no longer the case. Actual ticket sales nowadays are quite dismal.” As a result, this year the Bahia Shriners gave away thousands of free tickets to this weekend’s circus, in the hopes of boosting attendance and generating revenue from sales of balloons and popcorn, and elephant and camel rides.
“It is obvious to everyone but the Bahia Shriners that the public no longer wants to see cruel, depressing animal acts,” said ARFF Coordinator Bryan Wilson. “We urge the Shriners to move away from animal circuses as a fundraiser.”
The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida will speak up for elephants and other animals in the Shrine Circus during protests in Kissimmee.
Protest Dates and Times:
• Saturday, May 4 at 9:00am, 1:00pm and 5:00pm
• Sunday, May 5 at 9:00am, 1:00pm and 5:00pm
Location: Silver Spurs Arena, located at Osceola Heritage Park, off Highway 192 in Kissimmee.
The Bahia Shriners have hired the Royal Hanneford Circus to be their “Shrine Circus.” The Royal Hanneford Circus has a long and sordid record of poor animal care and dangerous animal rampages. In November 2016, the circus agreed to pay a $7,000 fine to settle a federal complaint related to two incidents that put both animals and the public at risk.
Violent, physical abuse remains a common method of training and controlling animals in the circus. At the 2017 circus in Kissimmee, workers were caught on camera violently jabbing a tiger with sticks after the animal refused to perform. The disturbing video is available here: https://youtu.be/QNBthmtroZg.
(Kissimmee) – If you donated to the upcoming Bahia Shriners Circus in response to a phone call, the organization you were trying to help will likely receive only a small portion of your money.
Apopka’s Bahia Shriners use a for-profit telemarketing firm to sell tickets and sponsorships for children with special needs to attend the Shriners Circus at the Silver Spurs Arena in Kissimmee, May 4-5.
In 2016, the most recent year from which records are available, the Bahia Shriners raised $421,369 using telemarketers, but kept only $91,319, or 21% percent. The rest went to Etsell, Inc., a telemarketing company, according to the Bahia Shriners tax return.
“Donors would be shocked to learn that a telemarketing firm pockets 75 cents of every dollar given to support the Bahia Shriners Circus,” said Nick Atwood, Campaigns Coordinator for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF). “If you receive a call asking you to purchase tickets to send children to the upcoming Shrine Circus, you could ask the caller how much of your donation will actually go to the charity. But the best thing to do may be to just hang up.”
ARFF would also like to point out that the Shriners Circus doesn’t raise one penny for Shriners Hospitals. Circusgoers are often misled into believing that proceeds from the circus benefit hospitals. The Shriners Hospitals for Children is a legally and financially separate organization from local Shrine temples. The small print on Shrine circus tickets make it clear that proceeds from the circus fund temple activities, not the hospitals (tickets are not considered charitable contributions). The best way to help the Shriners Hospitals for Children is to donate directly to the hospital.