When it comes to the frivolous use of animals in entertainment, rodeos rank among the top culprits. Canadian rodeo-goers cite culture and athleticism as justification for events such as steer-riding, chuckwagon-racing and calf-roping, which has recently been renamed “tie-down roping”, a more palatable title in the face of increased public criticism of the event. Thanks to dedicated animal welfare groups, anti-specieist dialogue and thousands of compassionate and outspoken Canadians, light is being shed on the cruelty of the Calgary Stampede.
The Stampede is indeed one of Canada’s largest yearly events. Going up against this long-standing rodeo which is backed by millions of dollars and corporate sponsors is truthfully an uphill battle. Much to the chagrin of Stampede officials, though, this task hasn’t been as “David vs. Goliath” as they would have liked. Thousands of people are asking the Stampede to look at their treatment of animals with true accountability and responsibility. So far, their appeasements have, for the most part, fallen short. With public pressure on the rodeo’s sponsors as well, this debate about cruelty is inching its way towards center stage. What is clear is that it is becoming increasingly hard for the Stampede, and rodeos in general, to justify their use of animals for entertainment.
I would like to debunk a few myths.
First, The “culture” argument. Rodeos profess to be keeping western culture alive. I’d like to start by quoting a friend from the west who recently wrote me about the rodeo: My dad, the rancher, dislikes the Stampede. He roped calves one day a year for branding. He didn’t like that it, or any other part of being cowboy, was turned into a ‘sport.’ He considered bronco riding the worst. He loves his horses and absolutely hated how damaging the event was for them. Calf roping has never been a sport but it was made so for entertainment and prize-money, as was bull-riding. Think about it: why would anyone ride a bull? It was created for entertainment in the 1930s and was not something based on culture and tradition. There are many cultural traditions that are not morally acceptable. Think shark fining, whaling and bear bile farming. Think slavery, and female genital mutilation.
“The animals like it” argument. Two things about this: If I can’t ask an animal if s/he likes being prodded into an arena full of screaming fans to be ridden, yanked, goaded and possibly injured at our whim, I’m not going to assume that they like it, and I would therefore not put the animal in that situation. Secondly, the argument is used primarily in reference to the horses. Yes, absolutely horses love to run, but do they like running for humans, with humans on their backs in a ring, or tied into a chuck wagon where they are at risk of injury and death? Again, we can’t assume that they would choose this for themselves, and we should therefore not assume the animals like the situations in which we are jeopardizing their health and safety.
The “athlete” argument: We can’t compare animals to athletes because human athletes chose to participate in sports. Animals do not. Before we use that argument, we have to ask ourselves if calves and steer would want to be chased, roped and thrown to the ground, and if the chuckwagon horses would chose to be harnessed and often injured.
The “popularity” argument: Just because something is popular doesn’t make it morally acceptable.
The “we love our animals” argument: I’ve been to many rodeos, met many chuckwagon racers and bull riders. They are sincere when they say they love their animals. In light of this, we need to look deeper at what it means to love. I mean it. What does the word “love” mean if we are willing to profit from and place in injurious situations those we “love”. If that’s love, I hope nobody loves me! Rodeo animals are sent to slaughter, not to retirement and pasture, when they cease to perform at a profit. It would be great to talk about this with rodeo folk but I’ve tried and found this dialogue difficult and often met with anger and defensiveness. So, we need to look deeper still, at speciesism… but I think we need to peel back a few more layers in the cruelty dialogue before we can get to that. For now, We Animals and other organizations are working on putting an end to the cruellest of rodeo entertainment: calf-roping.
If you’d like to be part of the dialogue this year there are many ways to do so. Rodeos were banned in England in 1934, specifically citing animal cruelty. It’s time we end antiquated forms of entertainment here in North America and continue creating a more compassionate 21st century. At this point, those who speak up are the only hope for animals used in entertainment.
- Write to the Calgary Stampede CEO, Vern Kimball, and let him know how you feel about cruelty at the rodeo: [email protected]calgarystampede.com
- Write to Bell and ask them to stop sponsoring cruelty at the rodeo.
- Sign this petition, asking for a ban on cruelty at the rodeo.
- The new royal couple is visiting the Stampede this year, even though rodeos were outlawed in their own country nearly a century ago. Ask them to rethink their support of this event.
- Encourage dialogue about cruelty at rodeos through social media, and visit the Calgary Stampede blog and facebook pages.
- An excellent source of information about cruelty at rodeos.
- Visit the Vancouver Humane Society’s facebook page for regular updates and media coverage.