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Chilliwack Fair agrees to review rodeo events



Calf-roping and steer-wrestling are two of the worst rodeo events



In response to VHS’s campaign and the release of photos raising concerns about steer-wrestling and calf-roping at the Chilliwack Fair rodeo, the Fair has agreed to review the two rodeo events, including potentially cancelling them for the 2018 rodeo.

VHS has issued the following news release in response to the Fair’s announcement:


Media release
July 31, 2017

Vancouver Humane Society welcomes Chilliwack Fair decision to review rodeo events

Review to determine whether calf-roping and steer-wrestling should be canceled

Vancouver – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) has welcomed a statement issued today by the Chilliwack Fair that it will review the calf-roping and steer-wrestling events at its annual rodeo “to determine whether such events are suitable to continue in the 2018 Chilliwack Fair.”

“We are pleased that the Chilliwack Fair has listened to our concerns and the concerns of many people who object to these inhumane events,” said VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker.  “We urge the Fair’s board to cancel these events when it votes on this matter in September.  “It would be a major step forward in the evolution of rodeo toward a more acceptable form of entertainment.”

Fricker said VHS remains opposed to rodeo in principle but welcomes the Chilliwack Fair’s willingness to at least address concerns over these highly controversial events. 




Opinion Editorial

They refused to run an ad about animal cruelty at the rodeo

Article originally published in the National Observer.

Earlier this year, a tiny community newspaper in Iowa won a Pulitzer Prize for taking on big agriculture companies over factory farm pollution.

The Storm Lake Times, which investigated the effects of nitrogen from farm drainage on drinking water in the state, was praised for its “editorials fuelled by tenacious reporting, impressive expertise and engaging writing that successfully challenged powerful corporate agricultural interests in Iowa.”

The family that owns the newspaper reportedly lost a few friends and a few advertisers, but never doubted they were doing the right thing.

“We’re here to challenge people’s assumptions and I think that’s what every good newspaper should do,” said one family member at the time.

It’s a great example of a community newspaper showing courage and tenacity in seeking the truth. Some newspapers still uphold the highest standards and values of a free press.

Then there’s the Williams Lake Tribune. In May, I tried to book a full-page ad in the Tribune on behalf of the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS), where I work as the communication director.

The ad, as I informed the Tribune’s publisher via email, would express VHS’s opposition to the Williams Lake Stampede rodeo, which took place between June 29 and July 2. The event may be lesser-known than the famous Calgary Stampede kicking off this weekend, but from the perspective of the VHS, it’s every bit as cruel.

Rejected by the corporate owner

After a couple of days of silence from the publisher, I emailed again and received this reply from an executive at Black Press, the Tribune’s corporate owner:

“In consultation with our lawyer we have determined that we are entitled to decline advertising in the circumstances. The Williams Lake Tribune is a sponsor of the Stampede because it is a significant community event that the paper supports. We appreciate that your society opposes the event and we respect your right to that opinion. You were wise to check with us before commissioning artwork and design.

“While we cannot say definitively that we will decline all possible advertising, we can say, from experience, that anti-Stampede type display advertising that suggests or argues gratuitous cruelty to animals by image or text is unlikely to be accepted by the Williams Lake Tribune at this time.”

Since the words “unlikely to be accepted” seemed to leave the door slightly open, I sent the executive the planned content of the ad to see if it would be acceptable. This included a photograph of the steer-wrestling event taken at last year’s Williams Lake Stampede, accompanied by text stating: “You know in your heart this is not right. Stop cruel rodeo events at the Williams Lake Stampede.”

The executive replied that this would not be accepted.

A matter of public interest

This is not the first time a Black Press newspaper has refused one of VHS’s anti-rodeo ads. In 2015, Abbotsford News rejected a full-page ad opposing the Abbotsford Rodeo (which was ultimately cancelled in 2016). No reason was given for the rejection.

It’s perfectly legal for a newspaper to refuse an ad for any number of reasons. The ad might be libelous or gratuitously offensive or misleading to readers. VHS’s ad did contain a graphic image of a steer being wrestled to ground, but it only showed what a rodeo-goer would typically see at the stampede — the very activity that the Williams Lake Tribune says it promotes and supports.

If the Tribune finds a photo of steer-wrestling offensive and unacceptable, how can it support the event?

It’s also perfectly normal for a newspaper not to agree with an ad it might carry. The Tribune could have made this clear with a disclaimer on the VHS ad or it could have run an editorial explaining its contrary position on rodeo.

But the Tribune chose instead to suppress a legitimate point of view on a matter of public interest. It didn’t trust its readers to make up their own minds about rodeo. Unlike The Storm Lake Times, it didn’t challenge assumptions, “like every good newspaper should do.”

The B.C. and Yukon Community Newspaper Association, of which the Williams Lake Tribune is a member, says part of its mission is to: “Improve standards in the practice of the profession of journalism, and to promote a high standard of conduct and professional ethics in the business of newspaper publishing.”

The Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics guidelines state that, “Defending the public’s interest includes promoting the free flow of information, exposing crime or wrongdoing, protecting public health and safety, and preventing the public from being misled.” (Italics added).

Clearly, ethics matter to journalists and to the public they serve. People still believe that a free press is vital to democracy, that diversity of opinion matters, that newspapers should be courageous defenders of free speech.

What isn’t clear is whether those things matter to the Williams Lake Tribune, which, to my knowledge, has not been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

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Circus on the run!

The circus is coming to the PNE.  And we need to stop it.

VHS supporters will recall that the Royal Canadian Circus was scheduled to appear at Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver from May 12th to 14th, but after VHS encouraged the public to complain to Concord Pacific about the circus’s questionable animal welfare record, the venue was switched to the PNE.  It’s not too late to let the PNE know how you feel about its decision to host this performance.

This circus is put on by the U.S.-based Tarzan Zerbini Circus, which has a reportedly poor animal welfare record with regard to its treatment of elephants, as detailed in this 2016 article in the Ottawa Citizen and in this report by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). This gives us concerns about the welfare of other animals in its care. 

The article in the Citizen, by the Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Fellow, reveals that the Zerbini Circus has been cited for animal welfare violations in the U.S. and states that it “has featured elephants who are kept chained and forced to perform under threat of punishment.”

The PETA report says the circus failed to “meet minimum federal standards for the care of animals” used in exhibition, as established in the Animal Welfare Act in the U.S. It states that in 2011 the USDA “cited Tarzan Zerbini for failure to prevent elephants from being exposed to tuberculosis (TB).”

While it is VHS’s understanding that the Vancouver performance of the Royal Canadian Circus will feature only domestic animals and not exotic animals (which is prohibited by City of Vancouver bylaw), its parent company’s animal welfare record raises serious concerns.  Consequently, we are urging the public not to attend the Royal Canadian Circus’s performances.

We are also asking the public to complain to the PNE about hosting this circus.

Please email the PNE and politely ask them to cancel the performance of the Royal Canadian Circus.

Opinion Editorial

Animals used in TV and film production need protection

Article originally published in The Province.

The shocking video of a terrified dog being forced into a pool of churning water on the set for the Hollywood movie A Dog’s Purpose has put the spotlight on the use of animals in film and television production. It’s an issue acutely relevant in B.C., as the provincial government appears willing to allow local productions to use animals from suppliers facing animal cruelty allegations.

In 2016, the producers of the CBS television show Zoo, which was being filmed in Vancouver, was reportedly planning to use animals from Ontario’s controversial Bowmanville Zoo until pressure from the animal rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) convinced CBS to cancel the plan.

PETA had confronted CBS with a shocking viral video showing the zoo’s owner, Michael Hackenberger, allegedly whipping a tiger. Bowmanville Zoo has since closed down and Hackenberger is currently facing animal cruelty charges.

Documents obtained by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) through a Freedom of Information (FOI) request have revealed that the B.C. government granted a permit to Hackenberger to supply animals to be used in the making of Zoo, despite strong objections from the BC SPCA, which pointed out that Hackenberger was the subject of an animal cruelty investigation by Ontario SPCA.

The B.C. SPCA also informed government officials that the facility where the animals were to be housed on arrival in B.C. had also been the subject of animal cruelty investigations. (The name of the facility has been redacted from the FOI documents.)

Despite these objections and widespread media coverage of the tiger-whipping video, the B.C. government granted Hackenberger a permit to supply 18 animals, including tigers, lions, leopards and baboons to Zoo’s producers. While CBS was shamed by PETA into cancelling the shipment, the provincial government, oblivious to the ethical alarm bells, was happy to see the animals shipped across the country from one captive animal facility facing cruelty allegations to another.

CBS is currently filming another season of Zoo in Vancouver. It is not known if they are using live animals in the production.

These revelations hardly inspire confidence in the provincial government when it comes to protecting animals used in B.C. film and television productions. The same could be said of the industry itself, which took no role in determining whether the animals from Bowmanville should be used or not.

The industry has relied in the past on the presence of representatives of the American Humane Association (AHA) on production sets. But as the BC SPCA pointed out in its objections to Zoo’s plans, the AHA has no legal jurisdiction for animal welfare in Canada.

It’s worth noting that the AHA had a staff member on the set of A Dog’s Purpose, when the dog was thrown in the pool. Perhaps more troubling, the AHA was the subject of a damning 2013 exposé by the Hollywood Reporter, which alleged that the association underreported incidents of animal abuse on television and movie sets. Similar allegations were made in a Los Angeles Times story in 2001. Can the AHA really be relied on to ensure “no animals were harmed” in the productions it monitors?

Even if the safety and welfare of animals can be effectively monitored during production, what happens when the cameras are turned off? Too often, it means that lions, tigers and other exotic animals are returned to their cages at the animal rental agencies to languish until the next job. B.C. is home to several such agencies, which are not subject to regular inspection.

While no one is suggesting banning domestic animals such as cats, dogs and horses from our screens, the entertainment industry needs to guarantee their safety and well-being. But with advances in Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) it is no longer necessary to use captive wild or exotic animals to make movies and television shows. They should be retired to sanctuaries along with any other captive exotic animal that is not part of a genuine conservation program.

When it comes to compromising animal welfare for the sake of entertainment, it’s time to say “cut.”

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Too soon to say that Stampede chuckwagon race is safer


Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

VHS and animal advocates across Canada are relieved and pleased that no animal deaths were reported at this year’s Calgary Stampede.

The Stampede says that safety measures it implemented for its chuckwagon race have had an impact.  We hope that is the case, but in fact it’s too soon to say.

There have been three years since 1986 in which there were no animal deaths at the Stampede (1993, 1998, 2003) yet animals continued to die in the intervening years.  Only when a sustained pattern is established, with consecutive years free of animal deaths, will it be clear that the safety improvements have worked.  (It should also be noted that there was a near-disaster in this year’s race when a chuckwagon flipped over, tossing the driver to the ground.)

Agrifair RodeoIt’s also important to note that the safety measures the Stampede has introduced this year, and in previous years, have only come about because of the attention that VHS has drawn to the chuckwagon race and rodeo events.

The resulting media and public pressure have forced the Stampede to take action, although they are unlikely to admit that is the case.

VHS’s supporters and animal advocates who have spoken out across the country should be proud that they have helped hold the Calgary Stampede’s management accountable for the safety of the animals it uses.

But no one should forget that, despite the fact no animals died this year, many animals continue to suffer in the rodeo events.  VHS’s focus is, and always has been, on cruel events such as calf-roping and steer-wrestling – which we have asked the Stampede to ban.

calf roping040522Rodeo082cropresizeRodeo animals are subjected to fear, pain and stress for the sake of entertainment.  That is unethical and unacceptable. Three-month-old calves continue to be chased, roped, tied up and thrown to the ground.  Steers continue to have their necks twisted until they fall to the ground.  Bulls and horses continue to have bucking straps tightened around their hindquarters to make them buck.  All this to amuse a crowd.

Until animal suffering is eliminated from the Stampede and other rodeos, VHS will continue to oppose these events.  We will continue to draw public attention to the plight of rodeo animals and we will always speak out on their behalf.

It is only public pressure that will force rodeos to take animal welfare seriously. Our supporters have been instrumental in creating that pressure and we thank all of you for standing up for rodeo animals.  You are making a difference.





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CBS: End the exploitation of wild animals on show “Zoo”

tigerVHS is joining the call for CBS to end the use of wild animals in the filming of its show “Zoo”. The Vancouver-shot series is based on James Patterson’s 2012 novel by the same name and is a thriller about a zoologist’s investigation into a wave of violent animal attacks against humans around the world.

For a series that’s based on the story-line that captive and exploited animals are fighting back against their oppressors, it’s disturbing that CBS itself fails to see the lesson and contributes to such exploitation through their use of wild animals, including bears, wolves and big cats, who have been forced to perform in the series. These animals are denied any semblance of a natural life and are transported around, caged, chained and forced to perform for mere entertainment.

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) has come a long way and has been used in other films to create realistic looking animals without the use and abuse of live ones, a popular example of this being Disney’s “The Jungle Book”.

Please join us in calling on CBS to follow the lead of others in the film industry by ending their use of wild animals and instead utilizing CGI technology in their productions. You can submit your request by visiting CBS’s website and selecting “Zoo” under the category drop-down of the feedback form.

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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


animal welfare compassion cruelty News/Blog Promoted rodeo

Why is the UBC alumni association promoting the Calgary Stampede’s cruel rodeo events?



Calf-roping at the Calgary Stampede. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur


It’s surprising and disappointing to learn that the University of British Columbia’s alumni association, Alumni UBC, is offering a trip to the Calgary Stampede rodeo to its members. It’s disappointing for obvious reasons – animals shouldn’t suffer for the sake of entertainment – but surprising because universities and their wider communities are often the agents of progressive social change.

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A number of UBC’s alumni who are associated with VHS (directors, former directors, staff) signed a letter to the association last year, urging an end to the promotion, but it’s being offered again this year.

Presumably, Alumni UBC sees nothing wrong with tormenting animals.  Perhaps they find the photos on this page perfectly acceptable.  Most likely, they just see the Stampede as a tradition and see no reason to challenge it.

It’s a shame that when this issue was brought to the association’s attention, no one there had the intellectual curiosity to ask some questions about the ethics of rodeo.

Questions like this: When does an accepted tradition become unethical?

Sometimes you can put a date on it. Dog fighting, bear baiting, and bull baiting were outlawed in England by the Cruelty to Animals Act of 1835. But that doesn’t tell us when the critical mass was reached that allowed that change to take place. When did watching animals tear each other apart go from crowd-pleasing fun to socially unacceptable?

It’s even more difficult to determine when we’re approaching that critical mass on an issue in our own time. But sometimes there are clear signs.

VHS has been campaigning against cruelty to rodeo animals for a long time.  It’s still popular in a number of Canadian towns and, of course, at the Stampede. Nevertheless, cracks are appearing in public support for rodeo.

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

The most obvious indicators are polls showing most Canadians don’t support rodeos.  A December 2015 survey by polling company Insights West found that 63 per cent of Canadians are opposed to using animals in rodeos (66% in BC). Does Alumni UBC care that they are promoting something most Canadians think is wrong?

But polls are not the whole story. The cancellation of two professional rodeos in B.C. in the last two years (and half the events at Surrey’s Cloverdale Rodeo in 2007) signal a real lack of public support for rodeo on the West Coast. It’s no wonder the City of Vancouver banned rodeos in 2006.

Last year, the Vancouver Sun became the first daily newspaper in Canada to take an official editorial stance opposing rodeo.

In the same month, six other independent opinion editorials questioned the ethics of rodeo, including a piece by a member of the Calgary Herald’s editorial board, who wrote: “…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?”

Most mainstream animal welfare organizations are opposed to rodeos, including our own BC SPCA, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the national SPCAs of the United States, Australia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

These are the institutions we entrust with the protection of animals and they think rodeo is inhumane. So do most British Columbians. So do most Canadians. So does the City of Vancouver. But not, apparently, Alumni UBC.

Back in 1835, there were few institutions to fight for the welfare of animals. But the compassion of enlightened Christian reformers brought about the critical mass necessary for profound change.

Today, our animal welfare organizations have made the case against rodeo. Now we need people of conscience, community leaders, educational institutions and civic organizations to recognize that it’s wrong to make animals suffer for the sake of human amusement.  Shouldn’t the alumni association of one Canada’s best universities be among them?

Please send a polite email to Alumni UBC asking them to stop promoting the Calgary Stampede rodeo.

More about rodeo here.


Ad calf
Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

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Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

Calf being viciously roped at Calgary Stampede


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Bareback Riding

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073115 - Abbotsford, BC Chung Chow photo 2015 Agrifair Rodeo in Abbotsford. Bronco riding Bronco refused to get up until motivated by the cowboy behind the fence.

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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.

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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.

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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.





Media Release

VHS says public must urge halt to chuckwagonrace

Fourth horse dies at Calgary Stampede

VANCOUVER, July 13, 2015 /CNW/ – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is calling on the Canadian public to express its outrage at the death of four horses in the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon races, following the death of yet another horse in the event on Sunday.

“The Stampede has made endless excuses about the continued loss of chuckwagon horses and has failed to stop these deaths,” said VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker.

“The race is fundamentally unsafe and horses just keep dying,” said Fricker. “People need to let the Stampede know that this is unacceptable.”

VHS has repeatedly called on the Stampede to suspend the race and establish an independent panel of experts to determine if anything can be done to make the race safer.

Meanwhile, more than 10,000 people have signed a VHS online petition calling for CBC Sports to stop television coverage of the Calgary Stampede rodeo:

SOURCE Vancouver Humane Society