Opinion Editorial

A stressful and fear-filled glimpse into an animal’s first rodeo

Article originally published in the Daily Hive.

Bring up animal welfare to a rodeo supporter, and you’ll often hear the same set of arguments: these animals are trained. They’re used to it. They’re athletes akin to other rough sports, like football or boxing. While these arguments are easily unravelled, new footage from this year’s rodeo in Merritt kicks the legs out from under them entirely. 

The newly released footage taken by the Vancouver Humane Society shows handlers aggressively pulling and twisting a steer’s tail in the chute as he falls to his knees. Footage also shows steers with flank straps tightened around their sensitive underbellies and panic in their eyes, bucking wildly as saliva spurts from their mouths. Several animals become so agitated that they slip and fall to the ground of the arena. 

It’s common to see handling techniques like the ones shown in this video used in rodeo events. Pulling an animal’s tail or shaking their head initiates their “fight or flight” fear response, which causes them to perform the behaviours expected in a rodeo event: running away at high speeds or bucking violently. 

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The newly-released footage taken by the Vancouver Humane Society shows handlers aggressively pulling and twisting a steer’s tail in the chute as he falls to his knees. Footage also shows steers with flank straps tightened around their sensitive underbellies and panic in their eyes, bucking wildly as saliva spurts from their mouths.

Generally, a compassionate observer can see the signs of stress in animals subjected to this treatment, including visible whites around the animals’ eyes, extended tongues, and excessive drooling. The reactions of the steers at the Nicola Valley Rodeo in Merritt are far more obvious, however. A look at the Pro Rodeo website tells us why. 

The Nicola Valley Rodeo page on the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association website lists the Steer Riding Contractor as “local beef cattle,” which suggests these steers are from a nearby farm and not a rodeo stock contractor who raises and keeps animals specifically for the purpose of being used in rodeo events.

Animals from farms are not accustomed to the fast pace of rodeos; in fact, the National Farm Animal Care Council’s Beef Cattle Code of Practice, which serves as an industry guideline for the care and handling of beef cattle in Canada, requires that quiet handling techniques be used on farms. The high-speed, rough nature of animal handling in rodeo events is completely contradictory to the handling guidelines for these same animals in a farm setting.  

Where other rodeo animals may have become accustomed to the stressful and rough handling inherent to the sport, this video footage reveals what could very well be these animals’ first rodeo. 

Of course, it would be erroneous to say that other animals who are used to rodeos no longer feel fear and stress. Adverse reactions from other rodeo animals can be seen in footage from this year’s BC rodeo events as well: a calf defecates as they are pulled along the ground by a rope fastened around their neck; a bucking horse jumps over a fence, landing on their shoulder; and multiple clips show animals thrashing around in rodeo chutes and resisting handlers. 

In other cases, the animals’ relatively subtle response to stressful stimuli like flank straps, ear pulling, and tail twisting could be a result of learned helplessness.  

Learned helplessness is a psychological state that animals can experience when they repeatedly face a stressful situation over which they have no control. Though they continue to experience a heightened stress response, they lose motivation to try to change their situation and appear passive.

Because these individual beef cattle have likely not become resigned to the treatment common in rodeos, their responses offer the public a glimpse into what the beginning of the journey may look like for all rodeo animals. After all, every animal used in these events has experienced a “first rodeo.”

Animals used in timed events like roping, wrestling, and bucking must endure multiple rodeos each season; they face stressful travel between events; and they experience hours of use in rodeo practice sessions, where less polished iterations of the rodeo events seldom reach the public eye. 

Being used again and again for the sake of public entertainment does not transform frightened animals into willing athletes. Despite the pomp and pageantry about rodeo animals and human athletes working together in events, the two parties have remarkably little in common. 

Real athletes understand the rules of the game. They make the decision to sign up and prepare for events. They do not need to be coerced into the arena through the use of physical discomfort and pain. Each time they perform, it’s because they’ve chosen to do so. 

Animals don’t have the capacity to do this. They do not understand the concept of “winning” at so-called sports designed by and for humans. They can, of course, try to opt out of events by simply standing still – despite the stimuli activating their fight or flight instincts and at the risk of being punished for their disobedience.

Most importantly, where athletes’ first rodeos are marked with excitement, this year’s videos prove once again that animals’ journeys are marked by fear. 

With growing opposition to these events and so many other ways to celebrate BC’s vibrant community, the continued use of stressed animals for public entertainment makes less sense than ever. It’s high time for the province to buck the inhumane rodeo tradition.

Take action to end cruel rodeos
Opinion Editorial

Taxpayer money should NOT be funding rodeos in BC

Article originally published in the Daily Hive.

What would you do if you saw someone yanking an animal’s ear, twisting their tail, shaking them by the head until they’re thrashing about in stress? Would you turn away? Speak up in protest of the cruel treatment? Call in a report?

Or would you open your wallet?

Most British Columbians would say the unnecessary, cruel treatment of animals, like the aforementioned practices, which are commonly used to make rodeo animals “perform,” should be stopped immediately. In fact, only one-quarter of British Columbians agree with the use of animals in rodeo. Most would never hand over money to see this cruelty in person.

The catch? If you pay taxes in British Columbia, you’re paying for it anyway.

The BC Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture, and Sport announced in February that it would provide $30 million in provincial funding to support BC-based events, including rodeos.

More than 2,000 British Columbians emailed Tourism Minister Lana Popham asking that this public funding not be used to subsidize an inhumane private industry. Their calls for justice were ignored – to the tune of nearly $800,000 given to events that include rodeos.

Meanwhile, the provincial government provides no funding for animal cruelty law enforcement. This means that no proactive monitoring is being done at BC rodeos to prevent the improper handling of animals.

The fast-paced nature of the events and aversive tools used to provoke fleeing and bucking behaviours in rodeo animals are contrary to the quiet handling techniques outlined in current standards for these same species on farms.

Now, with BC in the last stretch of its dreaded annual rodeo season, many organizers are opening the gates to animal suffering with taxpayer dollars in their pockets. Significantly, an incident earlier this year suggests that organizers are well aware of the welfare issues inherent in the sport.

Over the May long weekend, the Falkland Stampede held a number of bucking, roping, and wrestling events, which notoriously subject animals to fear, stress, and discomfort. Later, rodeo manager Melissa Seaman requested that an image of a calf being roped tightly around the neck be removed from Facebook, stating that “it doesn’t cast rodeo in the best light.”

Though organizers wished to censor publicly available images of a practice integral to their calf roping event, the Falkland Stampede was happy to accept $24,900 in public funding. The move should raise eyebrows: why is the Province giving funds to an entertainment event that only seems acceptable from carefully selected angles?

The Chilliwack Rodeo, which received $7,500 in funding and will be held August 11 to 13, previously came under fire for its apparent use of electric prods at a 2018 event. It was again the subject of media scrutiny when the Vancouver Humane Society released disturbing footage from last year’s event of animals being roughly handled and deliberately agitated.

What happened at this year’s Chilliwack and Langley rodeos

The return of the Chilliwack rodeo this year, along with a controversial new rodeo held in Langley Township, has raised concerns about the well-being and welfare of animals made to perform in rodeo events. Video footage taken at both rodeos this summer shows stressed and frightened animals being roughly handled and deliberately agitated into fleeing and bucking.

In one video clip, a bull falls on his horn and is seemingly injured. In another clip, a calf runs into the arena fence while fleeing from a rider who is chasing them on horseback. Research has found that calves showed signs of distress across all the phases of calf roping, from being chased, lassoed, and caught to when they were released.

The Chilliwack Fair, which hosts the rodeo, received an additional $31,500.

The marketing of these events as “family-friendly” has drawn criticism for the behaviours they teach children. Many children are naturally drawn to animals, and studies show that children who are empowered to form positive emotional bonds with animals develop greater compassion. Conversely, a strong correlation exists between cruelty to animals and violence toward humans.

Rather than nurturing children’s empathy toward animals, rodeos teach children that animals are here for our entertainment. They demonstrate that animals should be treated with force rather than building trust.

But it’s not just the moral lesson that should give pause; several of the rodeos that received funding feature dangerous events specific to children and minors, such as mutton busting (children riding sheep), barrel racing, steer riding, and breakaway roping of calves.

Events that feature children’s rodeo activities include Valley West Stampede in Langley (which received $33,700), Lakes District Fall Fair, Children’s & Music Festival ($12,300), and the 74th Annual North Thompson Fall Fair and Rodeo ($26,200).

Rodeo events are inherently risky to both humans and animals and can end in devastating consequences. A University of Calgary study found it to be one of the most dangerous sports in the world, with a catastrophic injury rate about 20 times higher than football. Tragically, children and adolescents have lost their lives in rodeo events as recently as this year.

From a government that recommends children avoid “high-risk” activities for their safety, the dissonance is astounding.

The public funding of these dangerous, inhumane, and outdated events shows a concerning lack of judgement on the part of provincial decision-makers, who could instead direct this funding to events like music festivals, fairs, and arts and cultural events that bring communities together and that don’t put animals in high-stress, high-risk situations.

By boycotting rodeos and writing an email to the Ministry of Tourism, British Columbians can send a clear message that animals, families, and taxpayers deserve better.

Opinion Editorial

After yet another death, Vancouver should not support horse racing

Article originally published in the Daily Hive.

A heartbreaking incident this weekend showed many Vancouverites that horse racing is not all fun and games. 

Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse is once again the subject of controversy after a three-year-old horse named Lent Me Twenty tragically lost her life at The Cup – formerly known as the Deighton Cup – event on Saturday. 

Reports of Lent Me Twenty’s death offer conflicting accounts. David Milburn, president of the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of BC – an industry group that supports the continuation of thoroughbred horse racing – believed that the horse reared up before falling and striking her head on the ground. 

One of around 30 spectators who witnessed the death, Darren Hill, said, “It just walked normal in front of me with its trainer and then as it passed me, it just dropped sideways.”  

The true cause of Lent Me Twenty’s death is currently under investigation. Regardless of the outcome, it is doubtless that humans caused her death by choosing to use her as entertainment.

The selective breeding and use of animals for entertainment like horse racing always carries a risk. Sadly, that risk is not taken into account because the animals are not treated as sentient, feeling individuals. The industry requires that we see these horses as objects. 

This is likely why, after Lent Me Twenty’s body was hidden beneath a tarp and carried away on a trailer, races continued throughout the day

The tragic incident of Lent Me Twenty’s death is yet another stain on the satin shirt of this ostensibly high-society event. 

The Cup markets itself as stylish and sophisticated; it invites people to dress up for a “good ol’ fashioned day at the races.” However, under the pomp and pageantry, the reality for animals is far less glamorous.

Unlike human athletes, racehorses are not given a choice of whether to participate. They are bred and raised for the purpose and forced to perform at high speeds in front of roaring crowds.   

There is no choice to opt out when they are not feeling their best or conditions are not favourable. The show must go on – even on days like Saturday, in temperatures far exceeding what horses prefer to exercise in, and when a horse had just lost her life. 

At the end of the race, horses have no concept of winning or losing. Dr. Stephen Peters, a neuroscientist who has worked with both humans and horses, notes that “The idea that horses love the event they compete in is something we’ve created. It’s a myth more for us than the horse.”  

Unlike when horses “race” each other in a field, running around a racetrack is not a natural behaviour for horses, says certified applied animal behaviorist Dr. Sue McDonnell. 

Horses do not understand the thrill of competing in events developed by, and for, humans. For animals, the thrill of play and competition can be seen when they set their own rules and are given freedom to move and behave as they please, like when a dog “chases” his guardian through the grass.  

Instead, what these horses know is the stress of being carted between different loud and highly controlled environments, the bite of an uncomfortable bit in their mouth, and the pain of a whip on their flank as they run along a strictly guided path. Their so-called “careers” are short and marked by fear. 

Typically, horses begin racing around two years of age. Research shows that horses who begin high-intensity activities like racing at a young age have been found to have high rates of injury, and to decline and retire quickly.   

One study found that during the training and racing of two-year-old racehorses, 85% suffered at least one incident of injury or disease. Another found that of the horses that began racing at two or three years of age, only 46% were still racing two years later.  

Racehorses typically retire around age four to six; but life after racing is no frolic in the pasture, either. If horses are not used for breeding or given another way to turn a profit, they run the risk of ending up at auction, where unwanted horses are sent and sold to the highest bidder.  

While some horses may be bought from auction for riding or companionship, others are less fortunate and are purchased by horsemeat buyers, destined for slaughter. Auctions are a stressful and dangerous place to be an animal, and rescuers at the Squamish-based horse sanctuary, Second Chance Cheekye Ranch, have said that all horses they have rescued from this process arrive with some degree of trauma. 

This display of risk and fear only exists because there is money in it. Every spectator at this year’s event at Hastings Racecourse can be part of the solution for horses by skipping next year’s event and spending a Saturday wearing a fascinator or cufflinks elsewhere. 

Opinion Editorial

100 years of cruelty at the Calgary Stampede is nothing to celebrate

Article originally published in the Daily Hive.

The Calgary Stampede’s 100th anniversary of chuckwagon racing is getting a lot of attention this year, with commemorations of those 100 years being splashed across the Stampede website.

A book on the centennial was even published in March. The mood is downright celebratory.

But here’s something no one is proud to commemorate: more than 100 animals have died at the Calgary Stampede since the Vancouver Humane Society started tracking fatalities in 1986. Nearly three-quarters of those were horses used in the chuckwagon races.

The prospect of another 100 years of horse fatalities is certainly not worth celebrating.

The chuckwagon races are the most popular, and by far the most deadly, animal event at the Calgary Stampede. Event organizers and participants are well aware that any given race could quickly turn fatal in an event openly deemed the “Half-Mile of Hell,” as accidents are inevitable.

In fact, in the last two decades, there have only been three years in which the races did not result in horse fatalities: 2003, 2004, and 2016.

According to Stan Church, the chuckwagon safety commissioner of the Stampede in 2015, that risk has long been a draw for crowds. “A lot of people were disappointed if at least one wagon didn’t roll over” in the ‘50s and ‘60s, he said.

The thrill of the risk seems to continue to entice many. In fact, a disturbing pattern has emerged in recent years: each time organizers introduce a small change to improve the races’ safety in response to mass casualty events, those changes are vocally opposed by participants.

Reacting to a change that limited the number of wagons on the track for safety reasons, an anonymous veteran driver confided to the Calgary Sun, “I’m going to tell you, it’s boring watching three wagons compared to four wagons.”

The change came in response to the deaths of six horses in 2019. Safety is clearly not a top priority for all those involved in this sport.

Sadly, despite minor safety changes, horses continue to die in pain and fear nearly every year. That’s because changes to the number of horses and examinations of the track, while well-intentioned, fail to address the inherent dangers of the event: the fast pace, the close proximity of horses and wagons, and the fragile skeletal structure of the thoroughbred horses who are used, the latter of which has been the subject of criticism from animal scientist Temple Grandin.

Thankfully, the tide of public opinion seems to be turning on the use of animals in entertainment events like the Calgary Stampede. Sixty-one per cent of Canadians and 49% of Albertans are opposed to the use of animals in rodeo, compared to 29% and 40% in favour, respectively.

A Research Co. poll conducted during last year’s Stampede revealed the removal of the rodeo and chuckwagon events from the Calgary Stampede program would have virtually no impact on attendance rates.

The poll found that 64% of Calgarians asked indicated that they had attended or were likely to attend the Stampede last year, while 63% indicated they would be likely to attend without the inclusion of the rodeo or chuckwagon races.

What’s more, polling results indicated that the removal of controversial animal events would pique the interest of new crowds, with 24% of non-attendees from last year expressing interest in attending a Stampede free of rodeos and chuckwagons.

Without including the suffering of animals, the Stampede could truly become the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth by highlighting the vibrant arts and culture of Calgary and beyond, bringing people together with festivities all Canadians can be proud to claim as a major national event.

Opinion Editorial

New bill would silence those who shed light on animal cruelty

Article originally published in the Daily Hive.

Members of Parliament may soon be voting on a federal private member’s bill that would impose hefty fines and jail time on those who expose animal cruelty and welfare issues on farms. While it’s being promoted as a measure to protect biosecurity, something far more sinister is happening beneath the surface.

In reality, Bill C-275 proposes a measure that’s well-known among animal advocates as “ag-gag” laws: punitive restrictions that target whistleblowers, journalists, and others who aim to shed light on hidden conditions and illegal cruelty within the animal agriculture system.

Ag-gag laws were first devised by the powerful US farm lobby in response to undercover investigations by animal advocates that showed the public the truth about the often-appalling conditions on factory farms. These exposés regularly caught farms cramming animals like pigs and chickens into tiny, filthy cages; workers hitting, kicking, and punching animals; botched euthanasia; and much more. The abuse captured on camera was bad press for the meat, dairy, and egg industries, and threatened to interfere with profits. But rather than addressing the crisis of cruelty, legislators in several US states instead passed ag-gag laws that made it illegal for undercover whistleblowers to film on farms—ensuring the abuse would stay behind closed doors.

Undercover investigations into factory farms became common in Canada in the 2010s, exposing heartbreaking animal suffering and leading to prosecutions and conviction, such as at Chilliwack Cattle Sales, where an undercover video led to some of the largest animal cruelty fines in Canadian history. The farm industry soon started pushing for ag-gag laws—Alberta and Ontario both introduced laws banning undercover whistleblowers in 2019—and imposing incredibly punitive fines on trespassers. Manitoba and PEI have passed their own versions of ag-gag laws since then, and the first federal ag-gag bill was introduced in 2019.

Ag-gag laws are so damaging to transparency that courts in six US states have struck them down as a violation of free speech provisions in the US Constitution. Animal Justice is leading a legal challenge to Ontario’s ag-gag laws, with the case slated to be heard this fall.

It’s clear these laws limit much-needed transparency on farms, but are they a necessary evil to prevent trespassing and protect biosecurity, as they purport?

If we look at the laws already in place, it’s evident these laws are not about trespassing at all. The justice system is well-equipped to respond to trespass; each province has general anti-trespass and similar laws which have been used to prosecute people who enter farms without permission.

In fact, existing laws have already been used in a way that is favourable to the animal agriculture industry. Many Canadians were disturbed by the high-profile case of the Excelsior 4 in BC last year, which saw advocates put on trial for exposing horrific cruelty at Excelsior Hog Farm. Two advocates were convicted of criminal mischief for entering a farm after the court forbade them from providing evidence of the unjust and potentially illegal cruelty as a “defense of necessity,” further withholding the transparency that Canadians expect in their food system.

Within a justice system already used to serve the bottom line of the animal agriculture industry, Bill C-275 would do more than punish trespassers; it could jail people who bring a camera or tape recorder onto a farm without permission—including undercover advocates, existing workers, or even someone visiting a farm on an “open house” day. It would also doubly punish undercover investigators in provinces such as Alberta and Ontario that already have ag-gag legislation in place. Shockingly, fines for violating the ag-gag law could be as high as half a million dollars.

Disease outbreaks happen regularly on farms, but animal advocates aren’t the cause. Animal Justice analyzed data compiled by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), which monitors and investigates reportable disease outbreaks in Canada. The report reveals that standard farm practices and poor adherence to biosecurity protocols by farmers are regularly linked to illness and lethal diseases—such as inadequate hand-washing, failure to change boots and clothing, sharing equipment between farms, sharing needles, or in the case of mad cow disease, feeding infected cow flesh to other cows.

If Bill C-275 was serious about stopping diseases on farms, it would set out clear, legal standards for biosecurity in Canada—which don’t currently exist.

It’s obvious that ag-gag laws have little to do with biosecurity or protecting the food supply, but everything to do with hiding the poor conditions where animals are kept. Animals kept on farms deserve national regulations protecting their well-being, coupled with transparent, proactive monitoring and enforcement such as publicly available reporting and surveillance footage. MPs should reject dangerous ag-gag laws, and instead focus on protecting animals farmed for food and increasing transparency.

Opinion Editorial

Calves could be stuck in isolation until 2031 under new dairy industry guidelines

A version of this article was originally published in The Province.

Amid an onslaught of controversies surrounding the Canadian dairy industry, including a scandalous viral video of an Ontario farmer dumping milk down the drain, new guidelines for the care of dairy cows have been quietly released. 

Late last week, the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC) released its updated Dairy Cattle Code of Practice, which provides guidelines for the care of dairy cows on farms across Canada. The Code reportedly received a record-setting number of comments from more than 5,800 individuals. Although a strong public response prompted some positive changes, several areas of the Code still fall short of expectations. 

During the public comment period on the Code of Practice, one of the sections that received the strongest response was that on calf housing.  

It’s easy to see why; like other social animals, calves thrive with interaction and physical touch. Most human parents are familiar with the importance of cuddling to a baby’s development. Like human children, calves who are deprived of physical contact experience stress, slower growth, weakened immune systems, and lower welfare. Conversely, research shows that “pair or group housed calves show improved cognitive development, perform more play behaviours, and are less reactive to novelty”. 

A 2018 study found that 63% of farms in Canada reared dairy calves in individual housing. It is a promising step that the NFACC has acknowledged in the new Code of Practice the harms that this can cause, as well as the many benefits of social housing for calves.  

Unfortunately, the new regulations pave a long road to change. The updated Code of Practice will continue to permit the isolated housing of calves until 2031. This prolonged regulation shift will put millions of calves at risk of being housed individually over the next eight years, denying young calves the ability to engage in their natural herding instincts during their formative months.  

Perhaps most shocking is the continued absence of required emergency planning.  

The public comment period for the Dairy Cattle Code of Practice launched November 29, 2021, while rural communities in B.C. were still reeling from the impacts of disastrous flooding. The floods claimed the lives of approximately 640,000 farmed animals in B.C., including about 420 dairy cattle. Farmers, veterinarians, volunteers, and community members scrambled to evacuate and house thousands of animals, as many were trapped for days standing in deep, murky water.  

The Code recommends that farms develop a plan for evacuating cattle in the event of an emergency, but has no requirements around emergency planning. 

Other concerns that remain unresolved by the updated guidelines include the continued use of electric prods, the stressful separation of cows from their newly born calves, the lack of required outdoor access, and the transportation of cows who are compromised or lactating. 

There is some good news – the new Code explicitly prohibits abusive handling, which it defines as “kicking, beating, striking, tail twisting, dragging, improper use of a prod, and forcefully pulling cattle by the tail, head, or neck”. 

Avoiding many of these techniques was previously only considered a recommended best practice, but recent controversies have prompted a public cry for accountability. In 2021, the industry was subject to public scrutiny when news coverage revealed disturbing footage of dairy cows being violently beaten, kicked, and dragged at Cedar Valley Farms in Abbotsford. 

While the NFACC guidelines aim to address some of the systemic cruelty highlighted in undercover investigations like the one at Cedar Valley, the Code’s reach is not absolute. Meaningful monitoring, enforcement, and penalties for industry stakeholders found guilty of animal abuse are still needed to ensure animals are protected. 

The NFACC’s codes of practice are typically only updated every ten years, meaning that for better or worse, dairy cows will likely be stuck under these insufficient guidelines for the next decade. Meanwhile, consumers can find a growing selection of plant-based alternatives that increasingly rival the taste, texture, and price of dairy – without the suffering. 

Opinion Editorial

Why Canada needs to take action now to stop octopus farming 

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

In the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher, filmmaker and Sea Change Project co-founder Craig Foster says, “A lot of people say an octopus is like an alien. But the strange thing is, as you get closer to them, you realize that we’re very similar in a lot of ways.”

As one octopus develops a complex friendship with Foster, the film demonstrates how intelligent, curious, and sensitive these animals can be.

Industry stakeholders seem to be relying on the perceived otherness of octopuses to enable consumers to look the other way as they begin to establish the first inhumane octopus farms, even as our society is increasingly critical of cruel intensive animal agriculture practices. Thousands of animal advocates and allies across the world have spoken out to agree: it’s not working.

Earlier this week, reports of horrific plans for the world’s first octopus farm began making their way across the media cycle after confidential planning proposal documents were released to the BBC by the organization Eurogroup for Animals.

Rows of barren tanks at Kanaloa Octopus Farm in Hawaii each confine a single octopus who was caught from the wild. Laura Lee Cascada / The Every Animal Project / We Animals Media.

The farm, which is planned to open in Spain’s Canary Islands by multinational corporation Nueva Pescanova, will be a nightmare for octopuses.

In the wild, common octopuses—the species set to be farmed, and the species featured in My Octopus Teacher—are typically solitary animals who are highly territorial. They spend time interacting with their environment, in which they are capable of using complex problem-solving skills and tools. They hunt a varied diet of many marine species, usually at night. They are accustomed to the dark and prefer making their home in crevices where they can easily hide.

By contrast, Nueva Pescanova’s intensive farming plans would keep octopuses in crowded communal tanks, at times under constant light, where they would be unable to express their natural behaviours such as hiding and hunting. The animals would be defenceless as they would be raised and picked off for human consumption.

Content warning: This image depicts the bodies of deceased octopuses at a processing plant. (Click to expand)

A worker at a processing plant, processes octopus bodies with water through specific machines to make them turgid for sale. Selene Magnolia / We Animals Media.

Plans also note that octopuses will be killed by “ice slurry,” which has been identified as a painful and stressful death for the fish on whom it is currently used. The aquaculture industry has already begun shifting away from this slaughter method, including a requirement in the National Farm Animal Care Council’s (NFACC) Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Farmed Salmonids to transition to acceptable methods by 2025.

If we could have stopped industrial-scale animal farming before it began, the reality for animals would look very different now. Industrial animal agriculture has been called the biggest animal welfare crisis on the planet, with more than 70 billion land animals killed for food each year.

Content warning: This image depicts the bodies of deceased octopuses at a processing plant. (Click to expand)

Octopus bodies at a processing plant. Selene Magnolia / We Animals Media.

The Sentience Institute estimates that 74% of farmed land animals and virtually all farmed fishes are currently on factory farms, which are characterized by large numbers of animals confined in cramped, barren and unnatural conditions. Many of these animals are never given the opportunity to see the sky, smell fresh air free of the scent of ammonia, or feel the grass.

In Canada alone, 825 million land animals were killed in 2021. The number of farmed aquatic animals who are killed in Canada is so enormous that they are counted by weight rather than lives: 191,249 tonnes of finned fish and shellfish in 2021.

The Canadian animal agriculture industry has been the face of numerous scandals over the past decade, as undercover footage revealed live chickens with their legs ripped off, dairy cows cornered and beaten with canes, and conscious sheep flailing about with their necks cut open.

While we can do our collective best to decrease the demand for animal products and address the terrible suffering that industrially farmed animals endure, we sadly cannot go back in time to save the millions of lives squandered in misery, awaiting a painful and terrifying end.

However, we can prevent this tragic fate for octopuses. A federal petition calling on the government to ban the breeding, keeping, and import of farmed octopuses and other cephalopod species in Canada has already amassed more than 10,000 signatures.

The decision is simple, and it must be made now: before another species is subjected to horrific suffering; before cephalopod farms are established; before the federal government must contend with industry interests and try to unring yet another bell of cruel treatment. For the sake of protecting these intelligent, complex animals, sign the petition today.

Federal e-petition: No factory farms for octopuses
Opinion Editorial

It’s time to stop using taxpayer money to fund inhumane events

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

On Thursday, the Government of British Columbia announced new funding for fairs, festivals, and events; but the inclusion of one controversial and inhumane type of event is raising eyebrows among animal advocates. 

According to a press release from the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport, the Province will provide $30 million to support B.C.-based events, including sporting events, arts and culture events, community celebrations, agricultural fairs, and one baffling choice: rodeos. 

Rodeos are the subject of growing criticism in British Columbia and around the world; and it’s easy to see why. Rodeo events cause unnecessary pain, fear, and stress to animals, both at the event and in countless practice sessions, all for a few moments of so-called entertainment.  

To provoke the “performance” behaviours seen from animals in rodeos such as running and bucking, handlers and riders deliberately agitate these sensitive prey animals by pulling their ears, twisting their tails, and using uncomfortable tools like flank straps and spurs. Video footage released by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) reveals a number of recurring welfare concerns at some of B.C.’s most recent rodeo events in Chilliwack and Langley Township. 

What happened at this year’s Chilliwack and Langley rodeos

The return of the Chilliwack rodeo this year, along with a controversial new rodeo held in Langley Township, has raised concerns about the well-being and welfare of animals made to perform in rodeo events. Video footage taken at both rodeos this summer shows stressed and frightened animals being roughly handled and deliberately agitated into fleeing and bucking.

Meanwhile, evidence of poor welfare practices in rodeo continue to stack up. A new study was published just one month ago on the stress caused by calf roping (also called tie-down roping), a controversial event which takes place annually at rodeos in B.C. Concerns raised in the study include the risk of injury to young calves “such as damage to the windpipe from the lasso, bruising and broken ribs from being violently yanked off their feet and being forced to the ground, and choking from the tightened rope around their neck.” The study concluded that calves exhibited signs of distress across every phase of the calf roping event, from being chased, lassoed and caught, to when they were released.  

Unlike human athletes, animals used in rodeo cannot decide whether or not to participate. If given the choice, there’s no doubt they would opt out of being roped, wrestled, and roughly handled. 

The use of taxpayer dollars to fund these inhumane events is especially bewildering given the widespread dissent to the practice. Recent polling shows that only 26% of British Columbians are in favour of using animals in rodeo and a whopping 64% are opposed; the remainder are undecided. As a whole, our society is placing increasing value in treating animals with care and respect. 

Amongst governing bodies apparently more in tune with community values, the growing awareness around animal sentience is inspiring a shift away from this type of animal exploitation for the sake of public entertainment. The City of Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver have already implemented a ban on rodeo events, as have the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and a host of municipalities and regions worldwide. The Cloverdale Rodeo dropped four of its most concerning events after the death of a calf in 2007, and soon afterwards, the Luxton Rodeo near Victoria and the Abbotsford Rodeo were cancelled in 2015 and 2016, respectively.  

It is difficult to see the Province’s announcement of rodeo funding as anything but a confident stride into the wrong side of history. That is why a new campaign from the VHS is calling on the Province to direct funding toward family-friendly community events, rather than rodeo events. 

With a myriad of positive events that could use funds to reinvigorate the tourism sector and celebrate culture, community, and compassion, it would be incredibly disappointing for the Province to sink funding into a cruel and outdated practice that, as the majority of British Columbians agree, is better left in the past. 

Say no to funding rodeo cruelty
Opinion Editorial

Why hasn’t Canada stopped horses from being shipped to slaughter overseas?

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

Sunday night on the cold tarmac of Winnipeg Airport, a gentle horse stood in a crate, waiting to be loaded onto an airplane. The horse had no name; he and the thousands of horses like him who are shipped out of Canada each year are known only by their identification numbers. He was one of more than 100 horses loaded onto a flight destined for Japan, headed an ocean away to be slaughtered for human consumption.

The flight took off 361 days after Prime Minister Trudeau directed the minister of agriculture to ban the live export of horses for slaughter in a mandate letter on December 16, 2021.

It has now been exactly a year since that letter was sent. Since then, no action has been taken, and the bodies of horses destined for slaughter have continued to pile up.

It’s impossible to know exactly what happened to the horse without a name – the Government of Canada has no jurisdiction over foreign slaughter practices after animals touch down in another country, out of the sight and mind of the many Canadians who consider them to be beloved companions. But we have a general idea of what happened to the horses on his flight.

Photo: Canadian Horse Defence Coalition

The journey from a Canadian feedlot where horses are raised to their final destination overseas can take up to 28 hours; a full day in which they are deprived of food, water, and rest. It’s common for three or four horses to make the journey cramped together in a single wooden crate, with their ears poking through the top slats.

Before 2020, regulations dictated that horses must be shipped in their own crates with adequate head clearance. After the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) took the Minister of Agriculture and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to court over illegal breaches of transport regulations, the minister acted swiftly – not by changing the practices to meet animal welfare standards, but by changing the law to fit inhumane conditions.

“It is not acceptable to compromise horse welfare in favour of industry interests,” said CHDC President Sinikka Crosland. “Neither should the law be manipulated in order to meet those interests.”

Photo: Canadian Horse Defence Coalition

On noisy airplanes, these gentle herd animals with a strong fight or flight instinct go through a long journey of fear and stress. Some fall down upon takeoff or landing. A 2014 incident report indicated that a horse, who appeared agitated during loading, fell during takeoff and remained down during the flight. The horse thrashed and kicked through the crate, damaging the airplane and forcing an emergency landing. After landing, the horse was found dead in the crate, next to two other horses.

With last year’s mandate letter, our government acknowledged the need to put an end to the live export of horses for slaughter. Yet around 2,000 horses have been exported since the federal minister of agriculture was directed to end the practice.

Every month that the Ministry of Agriculture shirks the commitment outlined in its mandate letter, more horses suffer needlessly.

Thousands of Canadians have joined the movement, headed by advocates like the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition and Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden, calling for an end to the long and stressful transport journeys of horses being shipped to slaughter. With the recent launch of a new federal petition calling for the minister to finally end live horse export for slaughter, there is no doubt that many more voices will join the cry for justice.

Opinion Editorial

Wolf escapes highlight horrific issues plaguing Greater Vancouver Zoo

Article originally published in The Daily Hive.

Take action for animals in captivity

Animal lovers in B.C. are mourning the loss of Chia, a wolf who escaped from her enclosure at the Greater Vancouver Zoo Tuesday. Chia was tragically found dead on the side of the road yesterday.

Officials believe that Chia was hit by a car. And it’s known that animals raised in zoos for permanent captivity lack the survival skills of their wild counterparts. They do not recognize the dangers posed by cars on the road and are far more likely to associate human activity with food.

Chia’s sad ending is a devastating reminder of the concerns associated with keeping wild animals in captivity. Though zoo supporters will often claim that zoos breed animals in captivity for conservation purposes, captive-bred animals raised in unnatural zoo environments are not equipped to survive in the wild. And their survival in captivity, as it stands, can hardly be called living.

Walk through the zoo and you’ll see well-worn paths where animals like Hana the tiger spend their days pacing alongside the fences of their enclosures—as physically close to the free outside world as they’ll likely ever get. You’ll see a barren, concrete indoor pool where hippos Haben and Hazina can be found floating listlessly throughout the cold winter months. You’ll see giraffes repeatedly licking the bars of their enclosure. Abnormal, purposeless behaviours like this are common in captive animals who are unable to express their natural behaviours.

The Greater Vancouver Zoo has been aware of many animal welfare issues in their facility for years. The most recent report on conditions at the zoo, commissioned by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) and prepared by Zoocheck, raised alarms about a number of concerns.

Among them were concerns about the wolf enclosure’s small size and lack of complexity or enrichment. It was also recommended that the zoo stop breeding the wolves; yet young wolves including one-year old Tempest, who was also missing for several days, and six new cubs continue to be raised at the zoo for the entertainment of the public.

Unfortunately, the same issues raised in the report persist year after year, causing continued suffering to the many animals who are kept in captivity at the zoo.

High-profile incidents resulting in heightened public scrutiny of the zoo

In 2019, a 2-year-old child was bitten by a black bear after being able to enter an “unauthorized area.” The toddler had to be airlifted to hospital.

In 2020, the public raised concerns about an emaciated moose named Oakleaf, prompting an investigation by the BC SPCA. Oakleaf was then euthanized.

In 2021, a zoo employee was bitten when a jaguar climbed up a feeding chute. Rather than addressing the behavioural needs of this natural hunter and climber, the zoo welded bars to the bottom of the chute.

Just this year, the VHS filed a cruelty complaint with the BC SPCA after obtaining video footage of animals engaging in repetitive behaviours and in small, barren enclosures.

When will enough be enough?

This week’s tragic incident is the latest in a pattern of concerning incidents at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. But the series of high-profile cases that make it into the news are just the tip of the iceberg when compared with the monotonous, day-to-day suffering of the wild species confined to enclosures thousands of times smaller than their natural habitats.

If the Greater Vancouver Zoo refuses to make significant changes for the well-being of the animals they keep, a change must be made for them. That’s why the VHS is imploring provincial decision-makers to immediately address the outdated regulations around keeping, breeding, and transport of wild and exotic animals. Concerned citizens are encouraged to contact their MLAs now to protect wild animals from suffering in captivity.

How many more animals must we see put at risk, come to harm, and suffering at the zoo before change is made? For the sake of Chia and Tempest, Haben and Hazina, Hana and Oakleaf, and all the other wild animals who have not had their needs met in captivity, let’s hope we’ve reached our limit.