August 15, 2008
What a shame that the Canadian National Exhibition has seen fit to host a display of animal abuse as part of its entertainment program this year. The CNE has announced with great fanfare that “rodeo is back,” welcoming a corporate-sponsored rodeo, the Dodge Rodeo Tour, into Toronto.
Unfortunately, the City of Toronto hasn’t taken a moral stand on the issue of animal rodeo cruelty, as Vancouver did when it banned rodeo in the city in 2006. Vancouver’s city council accepted the clear evidence and common-sense case that rodeo events cause unnecessary suffering to animals. The bylaw passed unanimously and without any public protest, perhaps an indication of Vancouverites’ distaste for spectacles of animal cruelty.
The City of Surrey in B.C. saw yet another sign of aversion to rodeo when its Cloverdale Rodeo bowed to public pressure and eliminated four key rodeo events (calf-roping, steer-wrestling, wild cow milking and team roping). The move followed the death of a calf and a steer during roping events in recent years.
Cloverdale is one Canada’s biggest rodeos and the elimination of the four events sent shock waves throughout the North American rodeo industry. A debate began in rodeo circles about whether some events, like calf-roping, were sustainable in the face of changing social attitudes.
Even the Canadian Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (CPRA) realized Cloverdale’s decision was a warning. The CPRA president told members: “We cannot ignore the reality of what occurred. Our world is changing and we must change or risk losing some things that are very important to us.”
So the CNE’s decision to host a rodeo seems to fly in the face of what appears to be growing disquiet about whether the “sport” is humane, as rodeo promoters insist it is. They like to portray opposition as being confined to a few animal rights activists. In fact, all mainstream animal welfare groups in Canada, including the provincial SPCAs, oppose rodeo. The BC SPCA has even called on the public to boycott the events.
So what exactly is inhumane about rodeo? First, there is the fact that fear, pain and distress are used to motivate animals to perform for human amusement. (It is astonishing that here in the 21st century we still allow such a medieval concept to continue.)
Consider calf-roping. A young animal is goaded to come out of a chute at high speed, has a rope thrown around its neck and is jerked to a violent halt before being picked up and slammed to the ground. Can anyone truthfully say this is a painless experience for the calf? Imagine this happening to a dog or primate, just to amuse a crowd.
The reason rodeo horses and bulls buck is because of “flank straps” tied around their hindquarters that cause irritation and stress. They buck because they want the strap and the rider off. If they were “born to buck” as rodeo promoters say, then why the flank strap?
Steer-wrestling involves a cowboy twisting the head of the steer until it keels over. The steer naturally resists, creating a grotesque scene of a man literally bending an animal to his will. That’s how the steer in Cloverdale died – its neck was broken.
Whatever the event, no one can say rodeo animals perform without coercion. Even if pain were not a factor, fear is certainly an inhumane motivator. The animal behaviourist, Dr. Temple Grandin, has written that fear is “so bad” for animals that it is worse than pain. And she is no bleeding heart – she designs slaughterhouses for the beef industry.
The rodeo industry trots out inane arguments to defend its activities. (i.e. flank straps merely “tickle” the animals; the animals have thick hides so don’t feel pain) Often, they pull out the “heritage” card, claiming that rodeo is a demonstration of historical ranching skills. Most of this is baloney. (For example, why would a real cowboy ride a bull?)
The difference between rodeo and traditional ranching is that 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.
Out on the range, calves were roped when they needed “doctoring.” It was done with care and with their welfare in mind. Who can believe that is what happens when a calf hits the end of a rope in a rodeo arena?
Rodeo is low and sensational entertainment sold as nostalgia for the Old West. It is a pity the CNE bought it. Anyone who has compassion for animals should not.