The walls of Steve Hindi’s home were once adorned with the trophies of dead animals, such as that of a shark he caught and a king salmon.
Today, Hindi said he seeks to attain different kinds of trophies — that of media exposure of animal abuse, such as through articles in the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times.
Hindi is the president of the Geneva-based nonprofit Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, or SHARK.
Hindi and other members of SHARK recently began testing a new version of their remote-controlled flying octocopter in a field in the Geneva area.
Looking like a mini-UFO, the octocopter shoots into the sky about 400 feet as Hindi and SHARK member Mike Kobliska monitor from the ground.
They attach a video camera to the octocopter, nicknamed “angel,” and use it to spy on anyone suspected of abusing animals.
“We name it our angel because it’s looking after the animals,” said Janet Enoch, SHARK member and Hindi’s girlfriend.
The newest version of angel can stay out longer and go farther than previous versions.
SHARK has several angels its members use. They certainly need the back-ups.
That’s because people don’t usually like being spied on.
And the people SHARK spies on usually have guns in rural areas and angels are sometimes shot at and brought down.
“They don’t like animal cruelty exposed,” Enoch said, speaking not of all hunters, but those possibly engaged in illegal activity.
SHARK’s focus today is on an activity called pigeon shooting in Pennsylvania.
For sport, Hindi said violators trap pigeons and then release them for target practice.
So, what SHARK tries to do is capture these pigeon shootings on video as evidence of the activity to sway public opinion against the events.
Hindi claims the activity is illegal, but a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvannia State Police said pigeon shoots are not against the law in the commonwealth.
Pennsylvannia Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser said his office has no authority to stop pigeon shooting events.
“Pigeons are neither classified native or migratory birds, therefore, we have have no jurisdiction,” Feaser said. “... If a pigeon shoot happens, we’re not going to show up to stop it.”
It was a pigeon shooting event that inspired Hindi to form SHARK.
As a hunter, he said he and his hunter friends lived by a code, such as not poaching.
Hindi said he used to joke with his friends about what they would do if they found a poacher.
But he later realized that a poacher is usually just trying to feed his family.
He saw what he thought was a contradiction in the code by attending a pigeon shooting event in Pennsylvania. Hindi said he witnessed the senseless slaughter of thousands of birds, some by children, and became horrified.
“All of our hunting code was garbage,” Hindi said.
He had an epiphany and decided to devote his life exposing animal cruelty.
Hindi, who used to be a private investigator, said he is not a protester but would contribute to the cause by becoming a hunter of a different sort.
Rather than shoot animals with guns, he would shoot animal abusers with cameras.
“It is something I find infinitely more satisfying,” Hindi said.
SHARK also targets more mainstream events that involve animals, such as circuses and rodeos.
“In large part, we forced the rodeo industry to stop shocking animals,” Hindi said. “Rodeo horses are not really wild, but they were shocked to get them to buck.”
SHARK also criticizes the High School Rodeo Association.
“They’re teaching young kids that animal cruelty is acceptable,” Enoch said.
However, the website for the Illinois High School Association contains a statement that the organization promotes the humane treatment of animals at all times while trying to keep western heritage alive in the state.
“As far as I’m concerned, the (animals) are all treated as humanely as possible,” said Kenny Littrell, the national director for the HSRA.
He said the animal stock contractors aren’t going to let their animals be mistreated because their livelihood depends on them.
“We definitely don’t encourage kids to mistreat animals or allow them to,” Littrell said. “... We don’t think (Hindi) has enough to come after us for, but he seems to think it was.”
Currently, SHARK is not conducting investigations in Illinois, but Kobliska said they will follow up on any tips about dog-fighting or cock-fighting operations that might be happening in the state.