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The long war against circus cruelty













VHS fought long and hard to keep animal circuses out of BC


By Debra Probert, VHS Executive Director

Nobody was happier than all of us at VHS to hear that the biggest, most famous circus in the world, Ringling Brothers/Barnum & Bailey, would be holding its last performance later this year.  Cruelty in circuses, at least in this large circus, is no longer profitable. Hooray!!

Fortunately, Ringling Brothers Circus never came to B.C. Activists in other provinces, like Zoocheck in Ontario and smaller, grass roots groups across the country, did everything in their power to stop the behemoth – along with PETA, HSUS and dozens of smaller, grass roots organizations and their supporters in the U.S.  Congratulations to all of you – your work has finally paid off!

Here in B.C., we saw the smaller circuses, under names like the Zerbini Family Circus, Garden Brothers and the Royal Canadian Circus.  Some of them continue to travel around the U.S. and in other provinces in Canada, but they’re attended by ever decreasing audiences.

Over the last two decades, VHS worked tirelessly to have exotic animal bylaws passed across Metro Vancouver to prevent circuses from bringing exotic animals like elephants, monkeys and bears into local arenas and parking lots.

The initial bylaws came into force on Vancouver Island – in Nanaimo, Victoria and Saanich after hard work from dedicated local activists and organizations. VHS took up the torch here on the mainland and after years of picketing, attending council meetings and monitoring circuses, we did what some called impossible – we made it uneconomical for circuses to bring their animals into the province. One by one, with the City of Vancouver in the lead, we worked along with local activists to enable legislation in Surrey, Delta, Coquitlam, Langley, and basically every other region of high density in British Columbia, to stop the cruelty in its tracks.

And cruelty it was. I personally spent hours watching elephants, with their legs chained the entire time they weren’t performing, swaying back and forth, occasionally stretching out their trunks for an unreachable bit of greenery. Their lives were sheer misery, often lived without others of their own kind, and never free to walk or run the miles they would in the wild. They were controlled with bull hooks jabbed into their sensitive skin. When they weren’t performing, they were travelling, often for endless hours in trucks with no ventilation.

The bears, monkeys and tigers fared no better. They were kept in cages so small, they could barely turn around. Again, apart from when they were performing and were under the strict control of their trainers, they spent all of their time eating, sleeping and defecating in the same small space.  Winter quarters were no different – the same small cages, the same chains. Exposés surfaced showing baby elephants, tigers, bears and monkeys being beaten into submission, all in the name of training and simply to entertain an audience. Well, it’s over for Ringling Brothers and the smaller circuses that haven’t already will soon follow suit.

We who care so deeply for animals seldom have something to celebrate. We should use this opportunity to contemplate that successes are possible, even if it seems to take forever.  We are on the side of truth; we know animals suffer; we know it’s not necessary and we know how to stop it.  And we won’t stop trying, however long it takes.



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Please tell this Vancouver restaurant to take baby seal meat off the menu


A Vancouver restaurant, Edible Canada on Granville Island, is featuring meat from the cruel Newfoundland seal hunt on its menu as part of the Dine Out Vancouver Festival. 

VHS is urging Vancouverites to ask Edible Canada to remove the meat from its menu, as the commercial seal hunt is recognized around the world as inhumane.  More than 95 per cent of the seals slaughtered in the hunt are less than three months old and many are less than a month old.  They are killed by clubbing, shooting or hacking with a hakapik.

With more than two million seals killed since 2002, the seal hunt is the largest marine mammal slaughter on earth.  The hunt has been condemned internationally, with 35 countries banning the trade in commercial seal products.  A 2012 study by veterinarians determined that the hunt was inhumane, stating: “There are unacceptable (and unlawful) things being done to animals for profit in this hunt.”

Please contact Edible Canada and politely ask the management to reconsider the decision to put seal meat on their menu:

Eric Pateman, President, Edible Canada
Tel: 604 558 0040

Also contact the Dine Out Vancouver Festival to express your concerns about Edible Canada’s decision:

Lucas Pavan, Festival Coordinator
Tel: 604 682 2222

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Another rodeo, another spectacle of cruelty

080716 - Chilliwack, BC Chung Chow photo Chilliwack Rodeo Calf roping

This is what happened to animals at the Chilliwack rodeo

The past weekend, the annual Chilliwack Fair’s rodeo once again saw animals tormented for the sake of entertainment – graphically illustrated in the photos below. It’s the last full rodeo left in the Lower Mainland and we’d like to see it end.  If you agree, please let the Chilliwack Fair know by sending them a polite email at

VHS will be taking further actions in the coming weeks, including identifying sponsors.

Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


Chilliwack Rodeo


Chilliwack Rodeo


Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


Chilliwack Rodeo - Sunday


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Rodeo on the run?

Thats entertainment?

According to media reports, the “dysfunctional” Canadian Professional Rodeo Association (CPRA) is in chaos, with its general manager being fired and several board directors resigning.

This follows the the CPRA’s failure to negotiate a deal to keep its championships, the Canadian Finals Rodeo, in Edmonton.  The CFR will now be held in Saskatoon, starting in 2017.  (You can urge the City of Saskatoon not to host the rodeo here.)

All this may signify a lack of public support for rodeo, which is good news for animal welfare.  VHS has exposed the suffering of rodeo animals with photos from a number of events, most recently at the Williams Lake Stampede.

The CFR’s move from Edmonton to Saskatoon means the rodeo will be in a venue with a seating capacity of 9,550 instead of one with a capacity of more than 18,000.  In short, the move likely means fewer people will see the rodeo and its growth will be limited.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association, which has been organizing rodeos since the 1990s, has announced that it has “ceased all operations, effective immediately”.  This follows the cancellation of two professional rodeos in British Columbia – one in Abbotsford, the other in Victoria – in the last two years, after campaigns by VHS and other animal advocates.

In addition, attendance at this year’s Calgary Stampede was the lowest in 22 years. While this was blamed on bad weather and Alberta’s economic downturn, it suggests that rodeo has a limited appeal.  There is certainly evidence that this is the case, with a December 2015 poll showing that 63 per cent of Canadians are opposed to using animals in rodeo.

As more people learn the truth about rodeo cruelty, the harder it will be for rodeo to attract new fans.  VHS intends to make sure that’s exactly what happens.

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Tell the Prime Minister to support better animal welfare laws

Sad dog iStock_000011589690Small

Earlier this year, Member of Parliament Nathaniel Erskine-Smith introduced Bill C-246, the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, a private member’s bill aimed at updating Canada’s federal animal cruelty legislation. The bill proposes to amend the Criminal Code to consolidate and modernize various offences against animals.

Canada’s animal cruelty laws have not been significantly updated since 1892. It’s time to modernize these archaic laws and more effectively protect animals from abuse and neglect. If you haven’t already done so, please contact your Member of Parliament to encourage them to support this bill. You can find your MP’s email address here. You can copy the text from the sample letter below into the body of the email if you wish.

You can also email the Prime Minister a message. (Click READ THE PETITION to see the message):

[emailpetition id=”10″]

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CBC to broadcast rodeo cruelty again

Calf roping 05

CBC Sports is once again planning to broadcast the rodeo and chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede.

CBC continues to ignore the fact that a majority of Canadians are opposed to using animals in rodeos, as shown in recent polls.  Our national public broadcaster is supposed to reflect Canadian values.  Instead, it persists in broadcasting events that subject animals to fear, pain, stress and the undue risk of injury and death – all for the sake of entertainment.

If you haven’t already done so, please sign our petition.

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur


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Great news: Abbotsford rodeo cancelled!

073115 - Abbotsford, BC Chung Chow photo 2015 Agrifair Rodeo in Abbotsford. Steer wrestling
This won’t be happening at the Abbotsford Agrifair


The Abbotsford Agrifair’s rodeo has been cancelled.  Organizers say the decision to cancel the rodeo was made to save money, but the event has been surrounded in controversy because of the inhumane treatment of rodeo animals.

VHS has been campaigning against the Abbotsford rodeo for years, calling media and public attention to cruel events like calf-roping and steer-wrestling. Last year, nearly 2000 VHS supporters emailed the Agrifair to call for an end to such events.  VHS also contacted the rodeo’s sponsors, asking them to end their support.  Our campaign, backed by radio ads and social media reached thousands of Abbotsford residents and compassionate people across the province.  Clearly, the message is getting through: There is no place in the 21st century for events that abuse animals for the sake of entertainment.

This is the second B.C. rodeo to fold after campaigns by VHS.  In 2015, the Luxton Rodeo on Vancouver Island was also cancelled.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our campaigns against rodeo cruelty.  With your help, we’ll continue this fight.  Watch this space!


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The truth behind animal businesses

tiger iStock_000003062690Medium (2)

In recent weeks, two news stories have emerged that illustrate how businesses that exploit animals cultivate images of legitimacy while hiding a dark reality.

In B.C., the case of Mike Hopcraft, who has promoted himself as the “Reptile Guy”, made headlines when his facility in Mission was raided by the BC SPCA and a number of animals were seized.  Hopcraft claims to rescue and rehabilitate animals and is often featured on morning news shows as a reptile rescue expert.  Yet court documents obtained by Animal Justice tell a different story.

Caiman iStock_000000587920Large

In a blog post, Animal Justice says the documents describe what was found in the BC SPCA raid:  “Investigators repeatedly found dead animals, animals in such severe distress that they needed to be euthanized, infected and injured animals, emaciated and underweight animals, unsanitary tanks, overcrowding, cramped conditions, mouldy feces in tanks with live animals, animals with no water or undrinkable water, exposed wires, and broken lights.”   The post says the court documents also stated: “When Hopcraft was informed [two emaciated animals, one with four broken legs] were going to be seized he kicked a chair across the office and was escorted outside by the RCMP.”


In another revealing case, Michael Hackenberger, owner of Ontario’s Bowmanville Zoo was exposed allegedly abusing a tiger.  In an undercover video taken by PETA, Hackenberger uses a whip to motivate a male Siberian tiger called Uno.  In a so-called rebuttal to the video, Hackenberger admits to striking him twice, as quoted in the Toronto Star: “Maybe I viciously whipped the ground. Maybe I viciously whipped the air, but I did not viciously whip that tiger,” he said. “I didn’t strike the tiger except twice to get him turned around.”  In another undercover video, Hackenberger talks about training wolves, stating: “You smack ’em and they generally fold like a house of cards.”

Yet the Bowmanville Zoo, which is accredited by CAZA (Canada’s Accredited Zoos & Aquariums), attracts thousands of visitors and even praise in the media.  Positive PR and marketing by the zoo has convinced many people that it really cares about animals.  But when the veil slips, a disturbing reality is revealed.

iStock_000000747069LargeOver the years, VHS has seen a number of animal businesses exposed for what they really are.  In 2010, Cinemazoo, an animal rental agency based in Surrey, was investigated for animal cruelty by the BC SPCA.  The agency was forced to transfer a number of animals to more appropriate facilities.  It is still in operation, renting out animals for advertising, birthday parties and corporate events.

In 2009, VHS was instrumental in exposing animal abuse at the Mountain View Conservation and Breeding Centre in Langley, leading to cruelty charges being recommended by the BC SPCA.  Crown Counsel declined to proceed with charges but the centre divested itself of most of its exotic species. Prior to the revelations, the centre was said to have a “superb” record and was also CAZA accredited.

And who can forget the 2010 massacre of 56 sled dogs in Whistler, B.C.? Robert Fawcett, an employee of Howling Dog Tours Whistler Inc. was sentenced to three years’ probation in 2012 for causing unnecessary pain and suffering to nine of the dogs. Fawcett claimed he had been ordered to cull the company’s herd of dogs when tourist demand dropped off after the 2010 Winter Olympics.  Until the incident, the sled dog tour industry retained a rosy image of dogs pulling sleds of happy tourists through a winter wonderland.  But the attention brought by the case revealed the industry practice of culling unwanted sled dogs and the outdoor tethering of dogs for long periods.

sled dog iStock_000015556155Medium


While Mr. Fawcett was portrayed as a “bad apple” by the industry, in fact he served as vice-president on the board of Mush with Pride, a leading international sled dog industry group (until he was voted off when the Whistler massacre became public knowledge).  He was a well-known and leading figure in the sled dog world.

These revealing incidents should serve as a reminder to the public that businesses that use animals for profit need to be constantly scrutinized and their claims should be treated with extreme scepticism.  Anyone who patronizes zoos, aquariums, circuses, rodeos, sled dog tours or races, horse races and other animal entertainment businesses should realize that the positive images they are sold are unlikely to match the harsh reality the animals experience.

When animals are treated as commodities their welfare will always be compromised.





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Tell Canadian Tire to stop using cruel glue traps


Mouse in glue trap

Please sign our petition

VHS recently contacted Canadian Tire to ask the company to stop selling glue traps for rodents. We explained that many of our supporters have emailed and called us to express their concerns about this product after seeing them on Canadian Tire store shelves.

Glue traps cause extreme animal suffering because they trap mice or rats in a sticky substance from which they can’t escape. The result is that they die a long, slow, horrifying death of starvation, dehydration and exhaustion. One distraught caller related listening to a mouse scream as he tried to escape the glue.

The reply we received from Canadian Tire states: “As the leading seller of indoor pest control products, customers expect to find a complete selection of pest control alternatives at our stores. To this end we offer a complete selection of pest control products for our customers to choose from.” In other words, cruel glue traps will continue to be included in Canadian Tire’s “selection of pest control products.” That’s just not good enough.

We’ve launched an online petition to give people an opportunity to ask Canadian Tire to stop selling glue traps. New Zealand and the state of Victoria in Australia have banned the sale and use of glue traps due to concerns about cruelty. They just aren’t necessary. The BC SPCA and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies are also opposed to glue traps. 

The best way to deal with rodent infestations is to alter the habitat so it’s no longer attractive to them. This means carefully closing off every possible entry point (after you’ve safely removed the animals) so it’s inaccessible. A VHS staff member had to deal with mice in a small cottage. She waited until night when the mice were outside and used fine wire mesh to seal every hole in the crawl space and the entire house. She then installed an inexpensive sonic repeller on each level and hasn’t had mice inside since. These electronic devices are available in hardware stores everywhere.

Mice and rats are social, intelligent creatures and every bit as capable of experiencing pain as the dogs and cats we have in our homes. Excluding wildlife is the kindest way to live alongside them. But as an absolute last resort, a snap-trap is less inhumane than a glue trap or poison (which also causes an excruciatingly painful death). Snap-traps kill instantly. If you use them, you should always identify the species prior to undertaking any control. Mice and rats will require different sizes of trap to be effective, and identifying the species will help guide the appropriate trap to use.

Sign our petition here to let Canadian Tire know what you think.

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Is the tide turning against rodeo in Canada?

the chucks

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur



There are encouraging signs that attitudes toward rodeo and chuckwagon races in Canada may be changing, if independent opinion in mainstream media is anything to go by.

A recent editorial in the Vancouver Sun said that it was “hard to argue” with the description of the Calgary Stampede as “a spectacle of animal abuse.”

In the same week, a column in the Ottawa Citizen described the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon race as a “brutal mix of human domination over an animal running at breakneck speed in confined quarters” and asked: “Would we miss it if it disappeared?”

Calf roper at 2006 Russian River Rodeo, Duncans Mills, California

Another column in the Calgary Herald, authored by a member of the Herald’s editorial board stated: “…the bottom line is these animals are still being used for sheer entertainment in events that can cause them traumatic injuries and death — and it is unnecessary for them to be subjected to this. Are we humans so hard up for entertainment that we must amuse ourselves by watching events that can cause animals to suffer and die?”

Elsewhere on the prairies, an editorial in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald criticized the Calgary Stampede, stating: “Shutting down the rodeo portion of the Stampede deserves serious consideration.”

Meanwhile, the BBC drew international attention to the deaths of chuckwagon horses at the Stampede with a lengthy analysis titled “Why horses die on the half-mile of hell”.

Update: Yet another opinion piece (in Metro News Canada) critical of the chuckwagon race has been published.

Update: An article in the Ottawa Citizen describes watching the CBC coverage of the Calgary Stampede, stating:”…it was impossible not to feel empathy for the poor animals, so clearly unwilling participants in this painful and terrifying circus. In the name of tradition, the CBC broadcast an ugly and cruel spectacle, one that felt like it took place in a dark, shameful past that the public no longer wanted to acknowledge, or had an appetite for.”

Aside from media comment, it should be remembered that virtually all mainstream animal welfare agencies oppose rodeo.

A 2013 public opinion poll showed that the majority of B.C. residents are opposed to rodeo.  Maybe that sentiment is beginning to spread across the country. Let’s hope so.