The Calgary Stampede is an annual exhibition that attracts visitors from around the world. Its one million visitors spend roughly $345 million within the province, in hotels, restaurants, and local businesses.
According to their website, the Stampede takes animal welfare very seriously, working under the direction from the Alberta SPCA, Alberta Farm Animal Care, and Calgary Humane Society. But how much does that really mean when the government, and society as a whole, is completely tone-deaf about animal rights issues?
The Calgary Stampede earned the ire of animal rights activists last week when they posted this picture of a pig in a farrowing crate (… you know, to serve as an example of how much they care for their animals and adhere to government regulations).
Many people, myself included, took to The Calgary Stampede’s Facebook page to let them know what we thought of their shocking treatment of animals. The posts received a lot of blow-back from ranchers and avid rodeo attendants, even though our complaints were mild and didn’t come close to exposing the horror these animals face in the Stampede rodeo.
Here’s why the Calgary Stampede rodeo is so horrific and outdated.
This “sport” involves a horse-mounted rider lassoing a three or four month calf around the neck, jerking it hard enough to make the audience gasp as he jumps off his horse, slams the calf to the ground, and ties its feet together. Calves are roughly handled and have died in these events.
I won’t post anything gory, but those with stronger stomachs can see shocking images of calf roping, steer wrestling and other inhumane activities here.
This involves the cowboy chasing the steer on a horse and wrestling it to the ground by its horns. It is a highly dangerous activity to both the human and animal, but the difference is that the human is willingly engaged.
For the animal, the activity is nothing short of torture.
Chuckwagon racing is a dangerous sport that has caused deaths to many horses over the years. During the 2010 Stampede six horses died, and four of them were chuckwagon horses. Although rules have been tightened after a deadly year in 1986 and again in 2011, deaths continue.
Still, supporters argue that chuckwagon racing is good for the horses because it delays them going to slaughter.
This begs the question, if livestock are truly cared for as pets with the utmost respect for their wellbeing (as the Stampede and its supporters would have you believe), why are they being slaughtered at all?
Bulls don’t like giving rides, but electric prods and other torture devices are often used in rodeos to make the bulls even more aggressive than they are naturally.
If rodeos insist on continuing this activity, why not use mechanical bulls, and save living souls the distress?
The “Western heritage” argument
According to the Vancouver Humane Society, “Real cowboys did not ride bulls (Why would they?) or wrestle steers (invented for rodeo in the 1930s) or have chuckwagon races (invented for rodeo in 1923). Rodeo has almost nothing to do with the culture of the old west. It is merely sensational entertainment – and it causes animals to suffer for the most trivial of purposes.”
Why cling to a practice that is so cruel, and not even a historically accurate representation of rural “culture”?
Of course, there are sadly people who rely on rodeos as a source of livelihood, so change may be slow to come. Rather than look at the rodeo for what it is, it’s easier to lash out at others than question your own behaviour. Here is a public comment I received from someone named Anna Bambury Laforet of Alberta, who exemplifies the kind of person who attends and supports rodeos, and defends animal abuse. Which side would you want to be on?
Noticing my ethnic name and tanned skin, Anna Bambury Laforet of Alberta writes, “Go back to where you came from we don’t need people like you here.”
Fun fact: I was born in Calgary.
It may take time, but the day will come when rodeos will have earned their place in our history books, alongside bullfighting, Sea World, and other forms of “animal entertainment.” There were even times when people thought that the institution of slavery would never fall, and an unfortunate post like Laforet’s shows the connection between racism and carnism. But slavery did fall, and eventually, so do all unjust and exploitative systems. Who we really don’t need more of are animal abuse apologists. Our world is full of them.
The community-run Calgary Stampede does not want to put an end to the rodeo because that could risk their bottom line, but this is not a rational concern. The Stampede could still bring in hundreds of millions for Alberta while sparing animals from undue harm. In fact, the VHS reports that the Cloverdale Rodeo in Surrey, B.C. has drawn record crowds since 2007, after they dropped four major events after years of pressure. The events (team-roping, wild cow-milking, steer-wrestling and calf-roping) were thought to be mainstays, but their removal shows that the real attraction was the country fair, not the rodeo. This sets a precedent for the Calgary Stampede to follow.
Keep the exhibition, lose the rodeo. Animal cruelty isn’t culturally relative.
You can help bring an end to calf roping, one of the Calgary Stampede’s cruelest events, by signing this petition.