Protesters take aim at Cowboy Monkey Rodeo

John Joyce
  • Animal rights protesters object to the York Revolution's hosting of a Cowboy Monkey Rodeo Sunday.
  • Local and regional groups joined together to wave signs and sing in front of PeoplesBank Park.
  • Revs officials said no credible evidence of abuse has ever been brought forward against the show's promoter.

It's not every day baseball fans can turn out to the ballpark and watch a team of capuchin monkeys herd goats on the field, although a bad outing by the home team might resemble such a spectacle.

But that is exactly what brought thousands of York Revolution fans to the PeoplesBank Park Sunday despite the above-90 degree temperatures and direct sunshine.

Unfortunately for the Revs' promotional staff, however, this weekend's Cowboy Monkey Rodeo, which performed between innings and after the team's finale of a three-game series against the New Britain Bees, also drew a slew of animal rights protesters.

Tim Lepard's Wild Thang Productions "Team Ghost Riders" show has appeared at the park for the last three seasons and has been booked at much larger events, including some National Football League games. But protesters claim the monkeys suffer needlessly at the hands of the show's promoters, all so people can pay good money to bring their kids to see the "tortured" animals perform.

Revs director of marketing and communications Doug Eppler said the team was aware the protesters were planning to set up on the street outside the ballpark, but said no added precautions were taken before Sunday's game.

"This is not the first time the monkeys have been here," Eppler said. "These folks have exercised their right to express their opinion in the past, nothing (elevated) to any confrontations of sorts."

Eppler said the team respects every person's right to express their First Amendment rights, but he said the protests would have no impact on attendance or the team's promotional events in the future.

"This event has traditionally drawn a good number of people to us. We've had pretty steady pre-sale (ticket purchases), which we. of course. attribute at least in part to the show today," Eppler said.

Before the game Eppler had no way of knowing exactly how many baseball fans packed into PeoplesBank Park on Sunday, but the park seats over 6,000 and hosted  well over 5,000 fans the day before.

Call to action: Word of the protests spread earlier in the week after a Facebook event post by local animal rights activist Jane Heller prompted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to send out an action call to area activists to join ranks and prepare placards.

Heller, who founded and serves as director of the Humane Society of Southern Maryland and York, said she has been advocating for the rights of animals for more than 30 years.

"Do you know that your children are going to watch animal torture today? Are you concerned about that?" Heller shouted as families passed through the entrance gates of the ballpark at 5 Brooks Robinson Way in downtown York.

Revs' 'Cowboy monkey rodeo' still on; protest planned

She said the monkeys have their teeth pulled out and are chained around the neck to the dog and forced to wear costumes in adverse weather conditions such as Sunday's high temperatures and then made to herd animals on the backs of border collies.

"These people think they are all treated so well," Heller said. "Of course they are not treated so well. Who would want that done to themselves? Would you want (to be put on) a horse, and put a chain around your neck, and  let them bounce you around and break your neck? Would that be good? Probably not."

Chants for change: Six volunteers from the Direct Action Everywhere chapter in Harrisburg heeded the call from PETA and made the trip Sunday down to York. The group sang songs, participated in chants and waved hand-printed poster-board signs admonishing animal abuse.

"It's another form of oppression toward animals," Rachel Ziegler said. The 23-year-old from Harrisburg has been with DAE for two years, and she said the group protests all forms of animal exploitation. As she spoke about her organization, several passers-by in cars and on motorcycles shouted obscenities at the group.

Ziegler said she knows she is not going to be able to change anyone's mind with a single act of protest, but she hopes to inspire deeper thought about what the animals in the show are forced to endure.

"The hope is that they would listen to the message and reflect on what those animals are going through," she said. "Basically we are here to be the animal's voices. The animals do have a voice, it's just that we're not listening to them."

Inside the park, many who had to pass by the protesters to get into the game had little to say about the message contained in their chants and on their placards.

But many of the fans pouring into PeoplesBank Park on  Sunday not only had their kids in tow, but they had the family pets at the end of their leashes as well. Sunday also marked the Revs annual Bark in the Park day, a special event that allows dog owners to bring their furry friends into the park for a day of fun in the sun.

The juxtaposition of animals rights protesters chanting anti-animal abuse slogans at people who are obviously pet owners and animal enthusiasts themselves was not lost on either group.

Dog and baseball lovers: Richard and Harriet Hombach, of Mount Wolf, brought their 5-year-old Labrador retriever Corky to the park with them Sunday. The Hormbachs, married 60 years, are not only Silver Sluggers, meaning they purchase a 10-game ticket package each year, but are involved with the Keystone Pets Enhanced Therapy Services as well.

Keystone Pets therapy dogs provide services for everyone from special needs and autistic children in schools to the sick and injured, the elderly and to young women who are incarcerated, Harriet Hormbach said.

"I can see both sides of it," she said of the protesters versus the Wild Thang Productions show. "I don't think they are really harming their pets. These guys are making money off of that. I don't think they would harm their money makers."

"I can see where they think it is being cruel to the monkey by keeping it fastened on there, they are not able to get off," she added.

A "fact sheet" circulated online by the Humane Society of the United States says Lepard's Wild Thang Productions has been cited in the past for failure to obtain the proper permits, for allowing people in the audience to touch the animals, for keeping the animals in unsanitary conditions, and worse, including providing improper food for the animals and allowing the animals to live in unsanitary conditions.

Eppler said the Revolution has never seen any evidence or witnessed any actions confirming the allegations against Lepard.

"We have no reason necessarily to agree with all of the 'facts' in their fact sheet, and the gentleman producing the show has done so for years and years and years and at larger venues," he said. "And to our knowledge, no position of authority or regulatory body of any kind has ever had any reason to complain or to cite him for anything. We have never heard of any evidence of animal cruelty, and we would certainly not condone something that came with such evidence."

Tim Lepard was not available for comment.

— Reach John Joyce at jjoyce2@yorkdispatch.comor on Twitter at @JohnJoyceYD.