Animal cruelty another reason not to use farmland for a rodeo

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Animal Cruelty another reason not to use farmland for a rodeo

Vancouver Sun

November 19, 2013



Ever wonder what agricultural purpose is served by riding a bull? In the midst of a controversy over the appropriate use of farmland in B.C. , it’s a strangely relevant question.

The decision by the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC) to deny an application to develop a rodeo arena on a piece of prime farmland near Fort St. John has been applauded by those who believe in protecting the province’s agricultural land.

The decision is also being applauded by those who abhor cruelty to animals for the sake of entertainment.

As the rodeo developer has apparently built the facility in spite of the ALC’s decision, it now remains to be seen if the commission will enforce its will and require the arena to be dismantled.  Anyone who believes in the humane treatment of animals should encourage the ALC to do so.

Rodeo promoters often defend their industry by claiming that their “sport” is part of Canada’s agricultural heritage.  How ironic and outrageous it would be if real agricultural resources were lost to the phony public relations gimmick that is rodeo.

The truth is that rodeo emerged from American vaudevillian Wild West shows in the early 20th century, long after the real old west was dead.  Bull-riding, steer-wrestling and chuckwagon racing were invented in the 1920s and 1930s specifically for rodeos because they needed sensational crowd-pleasing events. Real cowboys never rode bulls, wrestled steers nor raced chuckwagons as part of their work.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Larry McMurtry, author of Lonesome Dove and a student of the Old West, has written: “No one on a working ranch would ever have any reason (or desire) to ride a bull, Brahma or otherwise.”

Rodeo is just a circus that uses farm animals – and it uses them inhumanely. Just last week (Nov. 8), a calf at a rodeo in Edmonton had its leg broken during the calf-roping event and had to be euthanized.  Television coverage showed the broken leg dangling limply before the calf was thrown to the ground and tied up.  There is no doubt that the animal experienced fear and pain before its death.   And it was completely unnecessary fear and pain.

It’s a sad irony that a ranch practice intended to aid a calf in distress has been perverted by rodeo into an event that causes distress.  On a real ranch no one ever timed a cowboy’s work with a stop-watch and handed out huge sums of money for being the fastest. It’s this pressure that puts the animals under stress and at risk of injury.

Supporters of the illegitimately developed rodeo site in Fort St. John may claim that a big professional rodeo would be popular.  That could very well be true but popularity is not a measure of morality.  There are places in the world where dog fighting is both legal and well attended but that doesn’t make it right. Public executions used to be popular—the last one in the United States took place in 1936 and 20,000 people turned out to watch.

At the Vancouver Humane Society we hear regularly from communities in Western Canada where rodeos are popular.   There is plenty of anger (and often abuse) from local people who bristle at interference with their culture.  But we occasionally also hear from quieter, more thoughtful voices in those same communities.  They despair at the cruelty of rodeo and the sometimes intimidating peer-pressure to accept it.

If there are people in Fort St. John who don’t wish to join the unthinking, braying rodeo crowds who gawk and cheer as animals suffer, they should speak out.  And the message that they and all compassionate British Columbians should send to the chairman of the ALC is this: Mr. Bullock, tear down this rodeo.