Podcast: Is it easy to go vegan?

The plant-based journey looks different for everyone.

In this month’s episode of The Informed Animal Ally, the Vancouver Humane Society’s Amy Morris and Chantelle Archambault are joined by guest Danielle George to discuss healthism and ableism in the plant-based discussion, as well as ways to make plant-based eating more accessible to everyone.

July episode: Will plant-based become the norm?

Note: This written discussion has been edited for length.

VHS Board Director

Danielle George has been a member of the Board here at the Vancouver Humane Society since September, 2021. Danielle has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology at The Evergreen State College. She’s passionate about food, social justice, and animal welfare, and the crucial intersections between them.

What can going vegan look like?

Chantelle: Before we get started, I’d like to note that we’ll be touching on topics of healthism and ableism, and there are also mentions of eating disorders. If this is something you have difficulty hearing about, we recommend that you have a plan in place to deal with complicated emotions that may come up.

Danielle, thank you so much for joining us today. Can you tell us more about your history with veganism and animal advocacy?

Danielle: I started out as a vegetarian since I was 13 years old. I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair, and I think that’s such a good example of intersections between animal advocacy and what we eat and also compassion and caring for humans.

I read this book about the meat packing industry in Chicago, and I took from it that the treatment of these animals is horrific, and I don’t want to be a part of that. When of course, one of the intents that Upton Sinclair had written it for was to talk about the horrific environment the humans were working in as well.

So it’s a great example of how, if you’re somebody who’s compassionate and you care about one issue, it can and should bloom into a holistic approach towards compassion towards everyone stuck in that system.

Then I became a vegan in 2007. I was actually on my way to a Weird Al concert. I was with my partner who was not a vegetarian, not a vegan. We’re both from the Midwest. We didn’t have a lot of exposure to vegetarian or vegan ideals outside of what I had experienced.

I just mentioned, “Wow, Weird Al has so much energy travelling around and putting on these huge shows and he’s vegan. I wonder what being a vegan would be like.”

It just really inspired me to kind of dip into that. And my partner said, well, maybe we should try being vegan for 30 days. And from there, we just kind of continuously took baby steps and learned more.

I was a much more emotional person on the journey. How does this make me feel mentally? How do I feel about this journey? How do I feel about what I’m accomplishing or what I hope to accomplish? And my partner is a much more spreadsheet person. So they were researching environmental impacts, researching water consumption, checks and balances, boxes to be checked on what is being accomplished by reducing animal products in their diet.

So between those two places, we really just kind of both came to the same conclusion that we really were happy and we continued to adopt that lifestyle every day more and more. And we’ve never looked back.

Plant-based advocacy from the VHS

Amy: For some background on the Vancouver Humane Society’s role in plant-based advocacy, this is an important part of our work because plant-based eating has a huge potential to reduce animal suffering by reducing the demand for industrial animal agriculture, where some of the most severe harms happen to animals.

I personally stopped eating animal products after witnessing farmed animals being treated horribly on farms and at slaughter facilities. I won’t get into detail because I find talking about those experiences triggering, and it can trigger listeners too. Suffice it to say that I didn’t think it was possible for normal people, when put in a position of needing to earn a living, to get to a place of so little compassion for animals that they can do them so much harm. Every time someone chooses to eat food made from plants instead of animals, it helps save lives because it means there is less demand for animals to be bred, raised, and killed for food.

Chantelle: We do work through our Plant University project to make plant-based menu options more accessible through institutions like restaurants, caterers, hospitals, schools, and city concession stands, and also to make it easier for people to choose plant-based foods with resources like recipes and nutrition tips for thriving on a plant-based diet.

Healthism in the plant-based discussion

Chantelle: We also talk about the benefits of eating more plant-based foods, including the health benefits. We know from public polling that one of the main reasons people reduce their consumption of animal products is for their health, so sharing those health benefits can be a strong motivator for people.

Likewise, sharing tips about how to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need while you’re changing the way you eat can be important because it gives people the resources to meet their needs and have that change be sustainable.

But talking about health in the plant-based discussion can also verge into the territory of healthism. Danielle, could you talk about healthism and how it can come up in the plant-based discussion?

What is healthism?

Danielle: So healthism at its most basic is assigning a moral value to health and placing it at the highest of priorities. And now, because it’s a moral value, it’s almost entirely up to the individual’s responsibility to guard and protect their health. And any decline in your health is now an indication of a moral failing.

It’s super easy to hold these beliefs. I understand how so many folks get there. It’s widely held throughout our society.

The problem with healthism

Danielle: But there are some issues with having this concept. So recent studies in the past decade have begun to reveal that the vast majority of factors that impact our health is outside of our control. For instance:

  • access to healthcare,
  • community,
  • education,
  • what class we’re in,
  • if we have access to economic stability,
  • if our society as a whole has access to economic stability,
  • living in a place that’s free from pollution,
  • having stable housing,
  • our genes,
  • what we’ve inherited from our ancestors,
  • and even language fluency and literacy skills can impact your health.

Think about just casual stress that you would experience from perhaps not getting the same messaging that other folks around you who have that language fluency. Imagine you’re trying to make a decision on if you’re allergic to something, but you can’t read or you don’t understand the language that information is in.

All of these are factors that are primarily outside of our control that have a huge impact on our health.

But it can also imply the folks who have health issues for whatever reason, you can start to feel that those people should have been able to invest wisely or have worked hard enough to overcome it. And not being able to do that can show weakness or laziness or lack of intelligence or lack of worth. It can feed into that bootstrap mentality of, “I’m where I am because of the hard work and the good decisions I made and you should have been able to do the same.”

Some of the side effects of consuming or perpetuating a healthism focused attitude can be often placing high value or fixation on the exterior presence or appearance of health.

So you can summon up in your mind what you think healthy looks like. Oftentimes that’s from a broader social message that we’ve all been swimming in since birth, and a lot of that broader social message of what we’ve been told healthy looks like usually kind of implies the ruling class or an upper class concept of what healthy looks like. So it’s not going to be necessarily showing a broad cultural or geographic differences of what health can look like.

Health & barriers to health look different for everyone

Danielle: Also, that’s just on the outside. Health can look like many different things, but it can also remove the nuance for how complex making “healthy” choices can be for so many people.

So this might be an example of what healthism thinking can look like: “Everyone should walk 30 minutes a day. It’s so easy to do. There’s literally no downside. It’s good for your mind. It’s good for your body. It lifts your spirits. It’s the least you can do. Why isn’t everyone doing this?”

Well immediately you can think of, okay, well what about people who live with chronic pain? How would they navigate this 30 minute walk, without maybe becoming exhausted or exacerbating their pain?

What about people who are living in highly polluted areas, with or without asthma? I mean, that’s a choice we have to make during fire season. Is it safe and or a good idea for me to go outside right now?

What about people who have depression or only have the capacity to either go grocery shopping for dinner or go for a walk?

The truth is that most people live with a really limited collection of resources, time, energy, transportation, money, and it’s really tricky and complicated to create an equation of what is the “healthiest” way to use these small pockets of resources.

Dangers of healthism

Danielle: But also healthism thinking can lead to disordered eating, such as bulimia or anorexia. It can lead to orthorexia, which is a kind of obsessive fixation on only eating the healthiest foods to avoid illness.

It certainly leads to kind of anti-fat beliefs being perpetuated. If we’re focusing on an exterior concept of what we think healthy looks like, then we’re certainly feeding into anti-fat beliefs.

It’s overall kind of steeped in privileged thinking that can lead to victim blaming towards people who have health struggles. It can lead to removing value and compassion for people who are locked in a complicated system.

Concerns about health and plant-based eating

Danielle: I think the challenge that can come up when we’re talking about plant-based living is that so many people often bring up health as a concern as to why they might be hesitant to try removing or lowering the animal products that they eat.

It’s tricky to walk the line of addressing people’s concerns that can sometimes, not always, but it sometimes can be already inspired by this healthism concept, without us feeding into it and implying that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet possible and therefore it is your responsibility to be the healthiest version of yourself, so you’re failing or being morally weak if you don’t choose the healthiest road; when at the end of the day health is often not in our control.

There’s many reasons why people are or are not healthy and many reasons why folks may not always have the capacity or the options or want to make the healthiest choice. And those folks and their lives, healthy or not, are 100 percent valid and deserving.

Ableism in the plant-based discussion

Chantelle: Yeah, absolutely. That’s a really incredible and detailed background.

Another issue that can come up in plant-based advocacy is ableism. For instance, if we were to emphasize how “easy” it is to cut out animal products but only offer plant-based alternatives that are made from scratch and involve a lot of chopping vegetables, that could exclude people who have chronic health conditions that cause nerve pain in their hands or affect their fine motor skills, or who have trouble standing to cook for a long time.

Amy: Yes, if we focus on how “easy” it is to go plant-based, the unintentional message is that it should always be easy. For some people, hearing that it’s easy will make them shut down if they face challenges – they think the only people who do it don’t face challenges and when they run into a road bump they might think, “Being vegan isn’t for me because it’s supposed to be easy, and this isn’t.”

Do you have any thoughts on ableism and plant based messaging, Danielle?

Danielle: Yeah. I do want to say that I’m by no means an expert. I certainly do move in some circles of disability community, but I always want to advocate and encourage folks to look into what disability leaders are talking about.

I definitely think that when we talk about how easy something is, it’s a great way for us to be showcasing our privilege; because if something’s easy for you, it means that you didn’t ever have to stop and think about how many obstacles have not been present for you to accomplish that.

Certainly when we talk about chopping vegetables, like Chantelle was talking about, we’re thinking of somebody who has counter space, who has a cutting board, who has a place that they can rinse their vegetables, who is probably not microwaving these fresh vegetables, so probably has a place that they can bake or broil or fry these fresh vegetables or tofu or whatever it is that we’re talking about.

So we’re also talking about, similar to that list earlier, someone who has access to a safe, clean space to prepare these things, has the time and capacity to do it, has the physical capacity to do it; that’s already a lot of folks who may find that challenging.

But then we also have people again living with chronic pain, like you had said, maybe having nerve pain or arthritis, and they may not find that as accessible as well.

So I think it is really helpful for us to just hold space for recognizing that what is easy for one person can be challenging for others; and not placing that implied blame on someone who says, “Hey, this is a challenge for me. This is out of my reach at this moment.” It’s up to us for us to hold space for that.

And then talk about how can we systemically help remove those barriers or obstacles for folks?

How to make plant-based accessible

Chantelle: Yeah, so that’s a great question. I think that’s the next question. What are some ways that we can remove those barriers and share information about plant based eating while also avoiding healthism and ableism?

Danielle: Like we had said earlier, it is so tricky because so many folks are coming into the conversation with maybe some already ableist questions. It’s hard to answer a question that’s coming from that direction without kind of feeding into it.

Focus on progress, not perfection

I think one of the things that can really help create space for people to feel like their challenges, their existence, the barriers that they have experienced, are valid and welcome to discuss, is not having an “all or nothing” mentality.

I certainly know that I don’t respond well to somebody saying, “If you fail on this, then you’re no longer a part of this community.” Or, “If you take one step in the wrong direction, you have to start all over.” I don’t think that that creates community. I think that that is a form of gatekeeping.

And so if we want to create a space in the plant-based world where people who are experiencing those barriers can feel welcome and can come and talk about what resources would serve them—because it should be by and for those folks, they should be in the room, they should be talking about what needs they need help meeting—then we need to create a situation where it’s: “Do as much as you can. Any change is better than no change.” And we’re celebrating the small wins. That’s step number one.

And then also we want to talk about, “If you’ve been making those small wins, how does that make you feel? What have you been noticing?” Maybe you’re saying, “Oh, wow, you know I have noticed that I’ve had a lot less inflammation when I eat less of this product,” or, “When I eat less dairy, I feel less bloated.”

And just doing check ins, without saying, “But you still are eating dairy; you’re a failure.” Instead, celebrating, “Wow. It sounds like you’ve been feeling really well when you’ve been able to make these changes.” And holding space for, “What other changes would you be interested in?” or “How can I help you sustain where you’re at? I want you to feel good. I want you to have access to things that make you feel good. How can I be a part of helping make that space for you?”

Amy: I think it’s really impactful talking about those small wins.

Shifting toward a plant-based diet

Amy: We can also incorporate accessibility into our messaging when we’re talking about plant-based foods, myths, and tips. For example, there are folks who see steak as the only way to get a regular dose of iron. We know that iron supplements can be just as effective, as well as iron in green vegetables like bok choi or broccoli.

However, some people live in food deserts where these foods and vitamins aren’t accessible. In some more remote areas, meat from wild animals might be the most accessible and sustainable option.

This is why we emphasize switching towards a plant-based diet; that switch can look very different based on who you are and where you live.

Something that comes to mind for me is just how often we say plant-based eating is cheaper or easier; all you need to do is make some lentils. All you need to do is make some beans.

When you think about it, there’s lots of people who either don’t know how to cook lentils, or they have IBS, and lentils and beans don’t serve their bodies.

So if we take any one thing and say it should be for everyone, then we’re alienating part of the community that might want to make a shift.

Avoid “should energy”

Danielle: I absolutely love VHS’s approach towards that holding accessibility in your messaging, like you said, and switching towards a plant based diet and celebrating the steps that someone might be taking.

I think that, no matter what circles you move in, when you get a group of passionate people together, it’s so easy to kind of accidentally trip into what I call “should energy”.

Should energy is this hodgepodge of gatekeeping and that moralistic “Are you good or are you bad”. If you ever catch yourself saying, “You should” or “I should” or “They should;” “They should just eat lentils,” “They should just eat green beans,” that should energy is passing judgement in one form or another.

To your point, Amy, I know there are some folks that live in remote areas or do not have access to ways to be able to cook lentils. Again, maybe they only have access to a microwave. Maybe they don’t have access to a grocery store that would sell fresh lentils in the first place.

I always try to remember, I mean, eating is a huge part of our sensory experience as well. It is, to many people, a huge source of joy. It’s a huge source of culture. It’s a huge source of mental and emotional nourishment as well.

And so if I were to tell someone, “You can get everything you need from these greens,” and they say, “Oh, well, the only greens that I have access to are canned,” for me personally, I don’t get a lot of sensory joy out of canned green beans versus fresh green beans. That’s something that I have the luxury and privilege of being able to experience cooking fresh green beans.

If I were then to say someone should be eating green beans, even if they are canned green beans—and maybe they have sensory situations where they don’t like the texture of it, maybe they don’t like the taste, whatever the situation is—I’m then asking them to fulfill my definition of what I think is a healthy thing. Not understanding the full cost of all of the other checks and balances you’re working with.

Then we’re not allowing that person to address and serve the many different parts of their self. They have their physical health. They also have their social health, their mental health. They’ve got all of these different aspects.

And so if they’re sitting there miserably making themselves check that “should” box at the cost of whatever other situation is coming up, I don’t think that that is a holistic approach to health. I don’t think we are serving that person or serving that community.

So I think if we can help break down and remove that should energy, I think it’ll help make space for recognizing that it’s not going to be the same experience for someone else. But also we can be gentler with ourselves.

That should energy can lead into all of that body shaming. It can lead into the fat shaming. It can lead into policing yourself: “I shouldn’t eat that. I shouldn’t be bad today and have this chocolate. I shouldn’t eat this because that’s not what a healthy person would do.”

And instead we can kind of ask ourselves, “How is this serving me?” “This birthday cake is serving me because I made it with my mom and I’ve been looking forward to it all week and it’s going to taste like celebration and fun.”

“And that’s exactly what this part of myself needs right now; the social self, my sensory self. Now tomorrow I might need a mushroom scramble because I’m going to go and do something and I’m looking forward to eating this mushroom scramble. It’s going to be so good and I’m really looking forward to it. And it’s going to serve me in a totally different way.”

So just asking ourselves, is this serving you or whatever goals it’s helping you accomplish instead of, “There’s bad foods; there’s good foods.” I think that’s going to be a huge part of our messaging to not bring cultural bias to not bring that ableist mindset into our conversation.

Avoid “this is easy energy”

Amy: That’s really thoughtful. There’s different terms. Some people talk about intuitive eating, where you’re just like listening to yourself and listening to what you need.

There’s so many different ways that food impacts our lives.

In the same vein of talking about the “shoulds”, I want to reinforce that we don’t want to lead with any kind of “this is easy energy,” I said that earlier.

We can really acknowledge that there’s a learning curve. Every recipe or ingredient or cooking technique or tip is not easy or accessible to everybody.

You know, some people use a blender all the time. Some people don’t have access to appliances. So really every recipe is going to have a different level of challenge.

We can also think about ways to reach people who are facing challenges without defaulting to saying “this is easy”. So acknowledging that it can be hard, but here are some tips to make it less hard. Here are some common challenges and how we can overcome them.

Start small

Amy: We can also start with the most accessible ways to add a few more plants into the diet.

Recently someone was asking me about switching to a vegan diet. I kind of tried this method sharing with them about what part of it was hardest for me, rather than just being like, “Oh yeah, did it. It’s been great.”

That led them to self reflect and they also wondered why I didn’t just switch to purchasing more ethical products, which gave me an opportunity to share about my experiences working on free range and organic farms, slaughterhouses, sheep farms producing wool, where I witnessed abuse and suffering firsthand.

And then also the footage that I’ve observed just through working for different animal organizations. Somehow that became more relatable because they could kind of have empathy for what I’ve observed, and it opened them up to consider, even though it was hard for me, I was willing to put in the work to kind of like make small steps to start it off because there was a motivator.

That whole process made the conversation much more in depth versus me just being like, “Yep, this is just who I am. I did this thing, it’s great.” And in that case, they just wouldn’t feel like they could relate to me because they would themselves think, “I’ve tried that and it didn’t go so well,” but they’d keep it to themselves because they just have that sense that, it’s too different. They’re too different from me.

So thinking about these incremental steps that a person can take, we can look at, “Where do you think there are easy changes you can make in your life? Where do you have options and availability for these foods? Could it be easier to start with shifting breakfasts or maybe milks to be plant-based?”

How you can help

Amy: Or if a person doesn’t feel like they have any options that are accessible to them right now, what steps can we support them in taking so they could be in a place to have those options? That could look like advocating for more options to be available.

Chantelle: Yeah, definitely. And while we’re talking about that kind of advocacy, this is a really good step any of us can take to help animals.

We can each do individual advocacy to make those plant-based foods more accessible to everyone.

Going into restaurants and asking them to add vegan-friendly options is a great way to make those foods available to the people who want to try plant-based but don’t have the resources to make those foods at home.

It’s also just a great way for anyone to try plant-based for the first time as an introduction step. The first time I had the thought that I could go vegan was when I had a really good plant-based burger at a restaurant in Toronto and I thought, “Oh, this food can be tasty and fulfilling.”

Danielle: Yeah, that makes such a huge difference.

And to your previous point, Amy, when you were talking about how different ingredients cooking techniques and tools are not always readily available; I remember when I first became vegan back in 2007, there were certainly way, way, way less plant based options in the grocery stores or accessible for shopping.

And a lot of the stuff you was: if you wanted sour cream, you’re making it on your own. If you want Alfredo sauce, you’re making it on your own.

I remember I had a really cheap blender that I had gotten from Goodwill. When you are blending cashews, you know, not all blenders are equal. So my experience of somebody telling me, “It’s easy. Just use your Vitamix and blend up this beautiful, creamy sauce,” was not accessible to me at that moment because my little five dollar blender that was probably older than I was, was not making creamy sauces. It was making a grainy mush.

So I definitely felt like I don’t feel represented in this conversation of this decadent lifestyle that someone is telling me is at my fingertips and is super easy.

Let alone if I had had other challenges, like if I had lived back in the middle of a small town in Kansas. Where am I going to get these raw cashews from, with easy access, without driving 30 minutes, 45 minutes, maybe over an hour to get to a natural Whole Foods store?

So I love this conversation of talking about and holding space for challenges, so that people can feel like, “This community is interested in hearing about who I am and the challenges I’m facing, not about me fitting into the square shaped peg they have for me, and that if I don’t fit into that, there’s no space for me.”

I think a good community, a healthy community, wants to hold space for hearing about what is your lived experience, what are the challenges you’re experiencing, and how can we help make this system serve all of us better; not just the people who find it easy.

Next episode

We hope you’ll join us again next month for discussion on the challenges that low income pet guardians face and the systems in place to help them.


UPDATE: ‘Ag-gag’ bill reaches review stage. Take Action!

  • Bill C-275 has been sent to the House of Commons agriculture committee for further review this fall.
  • This federal ‘ag-gag’ bill would criminalize whistleblowers and undercover investigators who expose animal cruelty or welfare issues on farms.
  • Tell decision-makers to vote NO to C-275.

An ‘ag-gag’ bill that targets animal advocates and whistleblowers will soon go to a vote. Tell your Member of Parliament to say NO to Bill C-275.

Take Action
Learn More

Quick action: Tell decision-makers to vote NO to C-275.

Why say no to Bill C-275?

While decision-makers claim Bill C-275 aims to protect on-farm biosecurity by deterring trespassers, trespassing laws already exist and the government’s own data indicates that previous disease outbreaks have been caused by poor on-farm practices from owners/operators. The standard industry practice of keeping large numbers of genetically similar animals in close confinement creates a prime environment for disease outbreak.

Similar ‘ag-gag’ bills have been implemented in other jurisdictions to further limit transparency of the animal agriculture industry and prevent undercover exposes that shed a negative light on this hidden industry.

Instead of targeting whistleblowers who expose the conditions and treatment of animals on farms, the government should be addressing the conditions and treatment directly. Following a disturbing recent undercover expose of a B.C.-based slaughterhouse, the VHS is reiterating the urgent need for more transparency and accountability within the animal agriculture sector, not less.

Join this call to action by urging federal decision-makers, including your Member of Parliament, the House of Commons Agriculture Committee, and the federal Minister of Agriculture, to say NO to Bill C-275.

Ask your MP to say NO to Bill C-275

Advocates in Langley protest use of animals in rodeos

Advocates protest at Langley rodeo | CityNews Vancouver

Protesters at Valley West Stampede in Langley say they hope to bring awareness to what they claim are unethical animal practices in rodeos.

Advocates gathered outside the Valley West Stampede rodeo Saturday to protest the suffering of animals used in rodeo. VHS Campaign Director Emily Pickett appeared in an interview with City News to discuss welfare concerns.

“These types of events take advantage of these animals’ fight and flight response,” Pickett said. “What we saw was things such as roughhousing of the animals, agitating animals in the chutes so they flee and buck in response.

“We think that this is something that causes a lot of suffering for these animals.”

Read the article
Media Release

Vancouver Humane Society raises concerns about Valley West Stampede rodeo

VANCOUVER, September 1, 2023 – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is again raising concerns about the Valley West Stampede rodeo, which returns to Langley Township this long weekend despite opposition.

Polling shows 65% of B.C. residents are opposed to the use of animals in rodeo. Overall, 67% of Canadians are opposed to the practice, up six percentage points since a similar poll conducted in April 2022.

Footage from last year’s inaugural rodeo showed frightened and stressed animals being deliberately agitated into fleeing and bucking. In the videos, a bull has his tail pulled and is struck near the face prior to a bucking event; a sheep is pushed over onto their back; and horses thrash in chutes, appearing panicked.

“This event relies on causing animals to feel fear and stress to make them ‘perform’,” said VHS Campaign Director Emily Pickett. “Inhumane rodeo events have no place in a community that values compassion and kindness.”

Despite most British Columbians opposing rodeo, the VHS pointed out that $33,700 in provincial taxpayer dollars were given to the Valley West Stampede – a portion of almost $800,000 in funding allocated to events with rodeos across B.C. Earlier this year, the VHS and nearly 2,500 concerned residents called on B.C.’s Minister of Tourism to not provide funding to events that include rodeos, but those requests were ignored.

The VHS continues to call for an end to inhumane rodeo events, including roping, wrestling, bucking and mutton busting, and urges organizers and decision-makers to prioritize alternative events that can bring communities together without putting animals at unnecessary risk of injury and death.

Concerned Langley Township residents can call on the Mayor and Council to follow the lead of other municipalities that have passed bylaws prohibiting inhumane rodeo events, including City of Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver, and most recently, Port Moody, on the VHS website.

– ends –  

SOURCE Vancouver Humane Society 

For more information, contact Emily Pickett: 604-416-2903,


New footage reveals animal suffering at Chilliwack Rodeo 

  • The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is again raising concerns of animal suffering at the annual Chilliwack Rodeo.
  • Footage from this year’s Chilliwack Rodeo shows animals being subjected to fear, discomfort and stress for sake of public entertainment.
  • This new footage, along with similar concerning footage from last year’s Chilliwack rodeo, reinforces that animal suffering is inherent to many rodeo events, including roping, bucking, wrestling and mutton busting (kids riding sheep).
  • The VHS is asking residents and tourists to call on Chilliwack City Council to pass a bylaw to prohibit inhumane rodeo events.
Watch the video
Take action

Animals suffer at Chilliwack rodeo

Footage from the recent Chilliwack rodeo shows stressed and agitated animals being roughly handled, thrashing around in the chutes, and being put at risk of injury and death. Obvious signs of stress are seen throughout the footage, including excessive salivation, defecation and resisting handlers.

The VHS also documented similar animal welfare issues during last year’s Chilliwack rodeo, reinforcing the reality that many rodeo events rely on the use of fear, discomfort and stress through rough handling and the use of aversive tools (e.g. flank straps and spurs) to make animals flee and buck in response.

Watch the footage:

Animal welfare issues at the 2023 Chilliwack Rodeo

Footage from the recent Chilliwack rodeo shows stressed and agitated animals being roughly handled, thrashing around in the chutes, and being put at risk of injury and death. Obvious signs of stress are seen throughout the footage, including excessive salivation, defecation and resisting handlers.

Calling for removal of inhumane rodeo events

The VHS continues to urge Chilliwack Fair organizers and local decision-makers to remove inhumane rodeo events, including roping, wrestling, bucking and mutton busting from the fair’s program.

Take the steps below to support this call to action in Chilliwack and beyond.

1) Send a message to Chilliwack City Council

Send an email or follow-up email to Chilliwack City Council, calling for an end to inhumane rodeo events at the Chilliwack Fair. Respectfully share your concerns as a tourist or resident about the treatment of animals and the footage from this year’s rodeo.

Email Chilliwack City Council

In your own words, consider highlighting the following key points: 

  • There are ongoing issues with the treatment of animals at the Chilliwack Rodeo. Footage from this year’s rodeo again shows animals being roughly handled during events, agitated in the chutes beforehand, and ultimately being put at unnecessary risk of injury and death for the purpose of public entertainment.
  • Signs of fear and stress are evident, including excessive drooling, defecation and resisting handlers.
  • I am urging Chilliwack city council to take action to end inhumane rodeo events in Chilliwack. There are many other activities at the fair that can be enjoyed without putting animals at risk. Please work with fair organizers to remove inhumane rodeo events from the fair’s program and follow the lead of other municipalities by enacting a bylaw to prohibit such events in the community.

2) Call for a bylaw prohibiting inhumane rodeo events in your community

Use the VHS’s quick action tool to call for a bylaw prohibiting inhumane rodeo events in your community.  


Podcast: Is rodeo obsolete?

Most people are opposed to calf roping.

In this month’s episode of The Informed Animal Ally, the Vancouver Humane Society’s Amy Morris and Chantelle Archambault are joined by guest Samantha Fuller to discuss how animals are impacted by rodeo, public response to rodeo events, and the future of rodeo.

Call for a rodeo bylaw in your community

Note: This written discussion has been edited for length.

Indigenous Biologist

Samantha graduated from the University of British Columbia last year where she studied and researched animal biology. Her research focused on improving the welfare of laboratory rodents, investigating attitudes toward rodeo events, and the use of animal welfare science in Indigenous wildlife stewardship. She is currently an Indigenous biologist, working with environmental science to and collaborating with Indigenous communities on their land stewardship program projects.

Welfare concerns in rodeo

Calf roping event at The Calgary Stampede. Jo-Anne McArthur \ We Animals Media.

Rodeos are stressful for animals

Chantelle: Recently you conducted work researching animal welfare concerns around rodeos. The Vancouver Humane Society has also been advocating to end the inhumane use of animals and rodeos since the organization was founded in 1986. Could you speak a little bit to how rodeo events impact animals and why that issue is important?

Samantha: There’s some evidence that suggests that the methods used in rodeos can be a source of stress for the animals involved. There’s also some concerns with specific events around the safety for both the animals and the human participants.

Amy: Can you share a little bit more about those stressors in rodeo that have come up in your research and how they impact animals?

Samantha: Stress can be measured in animals using either behaviour or physiology.

In calf roping, stress hormones such as cortisol, epinephrine, norepinephrine have been seen to rise in the events. This will happen while being loading into chutes or during the roping event.

Bulls have shown escape and agnostic behaviours toward handlers, which can indicate fear distress.

Unfortunately, there’s few studies investigating specific rodeo events. But looking at other areas, we can assume there are other stressors based by the animals. For instance, transportation is a known stressor for beef and dairy cattle, and also different types of horse racing can be a source of physical stress for causing injury for the animals involved.

Training vs. provoking a fear response

Chantelle: Yeah, absolutely. You talked about fear responses in the bulls. We’ve spoken about that before on the show as well with fight, flight and freeze responses, and it’s something we can see when people use aversive training techniques.

Amy, this is something you spoke more in depth about when we did our animal training episode back in April. What would you say are some of the differences between the way that someone would train a dog and the way that animals are trained to “perform” in rodeo?

Amy: Yeah, it’s really interesting when we think about animals that are being trained with, let’s say, positive reinforcement. They’re provided an opportunity to offer the behavior that we want from them, and then they’re rewarded with something that they really like, something they love, something that makes them feel good, the moment that they show that behaviour.

For example, if a dog is walking and you make a loud noise, which let’s say is neutral stimuli that they haven’t been exposed to before, they turn their head because they heard the noise. Then they get that reward, that really good thing, and so then in the future, they’re more likely to turn their head when they hear that sound.

That’s kind of the basis of positive reinforcement. Horses can be trained this way too. Cows, even fish have been shown to be capable of learning using positive reinforcement.

But then we look at other training styles, and maybe not always training, but punishment can be used by people that add something unpleasant to decrease the behavior.

For example, a flank strap that’s really tight decreases an animal’s desire to stand still and makes them move in such a way is to try to remove that strap. One of the ways an observer can see that the strap is causing the animal to respond to it is that as soon as the time is up in rodeo, the people who are managing the rodeo animals remove the flank strap, which then leads the animal to calm down.

Much of what happens in rodeo has little to do with training. It has a lot more to do with triggering fear responses. Animals that are waiting to be released from the chute—so situations like steer wrestling and tie-down roping—may be hit or have their tails twisted while they’re in the chute. Something that makes them uncomfortable so that when the gate opens, they run out full speed.

It can also happen sometimes that animals will freeze in place and not want to leave the chute. That’s their response.

Animals used for rodeo are prey animals, so it isn’t common to see a fight response. You tend to see fleeing or freezing.

However, we know bulls can sometimes have a fight response as you would witness in bull fighting, and then sometimes you’ll see that with some of the bulls that are used for bucking, but they quickly move out of fight and into flight as soon as they’re given an opportunity to. So you can see that they still have that desire to respond to their fear by getting out of the situation.

Samantha: Yeah, I find based on the animal and the particular event, the response might be a little different. Like you said, for calf roping, there’s more of a promotion of that flight response. For bull riding, there’s more of that promotion for a fight response.

That’s kind of what they’re looking for in that instance because they’ll get scored based on how aggressive or how lively the bull is performing in that instance. The same with the horses in the bronc events. There’s definitely variations between the events of which response they’re trying to get.

Amy: Yeah, I find it really interesting. Certainly to get that difference of, okay, are these animals trained? And maybe yes, in some cases they’re trained or they’re made to grow accustomed to the way that they’re expected to perform. But it seems like often they’re motivated through fear.

Samantha: Yeah, and I think there’s a certain amount of genetic manipulation that goes on with rodeo stock as well, trying to achieve that higher scoring animal, which can obviously play in how they respond.

Amy: Right, like with the bucking behaviors.

Samantha: Primarily, I think those are the ones where there’s more genetic roles in how they select those animals.

Public attitudes to rodeo

Rodeo culture at the Calgary Stampede

Chantelle: It’s really brutal to think about what these animals are going through, but a lot of the culture around rodeo minimizes the individual experiences of animals.

And I know that part of your research was looking at attitudes toward rodeo. The VHS recently ran a campaign on ending animal suffering at the rodeo, and part of that was monitoring rodeo events.

Amy, I wanted to talk to you about that because you watched three days of the Calgary Stampede rodeo while that was underway. I was wondering what some of the things were that you observed about the rodeo culture in Calgary.

Amy: What I found most interesting was listening to the commentators as they observed the rodeo events.

There was a really big focus on money, who was going to take money away from the event, and what I understood from that is that performers depend on placing in a certain ranking to take an income from the event. So they’re incentivized to perform the way that the rodeo expects them to.

But even with that in place, there’s many situations where things go wrong, such as when calves are pulled off their feet by the rope that gets wrapped around their necks rather than put on the ground by the people who are handling them,often aggressively. In the rodeo, these instances are considered no time—their scores aren’t counted—but the animal still gets pulled off their feet.

There were quite a few of these during the Stampede. It seems like even if it potentially causes more harm in that the calves are getting pulled off their feet and maybe dragged by the horse, it seemed difficult for the person performing to manage that. Obviously they don’t want that to happen because they don’t get a score, but it was still happening quite a bit.

I also noticed there were a lot of interesting comments made about animals and their behaviour.

There’s a lot of sociology of how people describe other people or other animals, and I noticed people commenting on whether the animals are nice or not, whether they comply or behave or not. There’s also a lot of commentary about the calves straining and struggling with this expectation that they should be submitting; where we know it makes sense that an animal that’s wanting to be free and being contained is going to struggle and try to get free.

I also noticed a big emphasis on the event as being part of the circuit to qualify on a world scale. It’s a reminder that even though the event only happens once a year, the animals performing in the rodeo are often traveling frequently and long distances. Especially the different horses are going to different events throughout the season and practice sessions through the year.

Travel is stressful on everyone, humans and animals, but particularly these animals aren’t being given a choice as to whether they want to opt into that travel. Horses and cows are herd animals and they’d rather be with a group of horses and cows over being put in a trailer on their own and traveling to a loud and stressful arena.

Responses to advocacy

Amy: We shared some of the photos and videos from this event on social media, and I’m curious, Chantelle, being the person who saw all the social media comments, what are some of the ways that people respond to posts from VHS’s website,

Chantelle: There’s a very strong response. One thing that’s really clear is this is an issue that people feel very strongly about either way. There are people who would love to see rodeos cancelled for good, but the rodeo supporters feel just as strongly that they should be kept around forever.

I’ve noticed that people on the side of rodeo kind of move the goalposts when you’re talking about rodeo, every time you point out an issue.

So if we say that animals aren’t given choice whether to participate, people will say that, actually, animals love being in the events, so they would choose to.

But we know for a fact that animals aren’t given a choice because we see what happens to them if they try to opt out of the behaviors. For instance, we shared a video of a horse during a bucking event who instead of having the flight and fight response, had a freeze response and just stood still in the chute. That horse was just repeatedly smacked in the face. They kept opening the gate and trying to hit and push the horse out.

We shared that video and the response to that video was, well, the horse wasn’t being hit that hard; the person just slapped or pushed the horse; they weren’t punching them, and the handlers wouldn’t actually hurt the horse. The video shows that horses aren’t given a choice, but we do know that horses are hurt in these events also.

Animals are catastrophically injured and die at the Stampede quite frequently. The VHS started tracking fatalities in 1986, and since then, 105 animals have died at the Calgary Stampede. Those deaths are happening almost every year. But on the other hand, when we shared those numbers that animals actually are in fact injured and killed by these events, people will just say, those deaths just happen sometimes, or it’s not enough deaths to really worry about. But those individual animals’ lives matter and we as humans don’t need to be putting them in those situations where they’re at risk for our entertainment.

Another response we hear a lot is deflection. People will say that advocates shouldn’t be looking at this issue at all because there are all these other issues happening in the world.

That’s a technique known as whataboutism. It basically aims to distract from the topic at hand. Of course, it’s possible to care about this issue of animal suffering in rodeo and work to address other different issues at the same time. And if everyone really believed that we shouldn’t be looking at one issue because there’s another one, nothing would ever improve. There’s always going be other issues.

So in general, there’s a lot of denial, moving the goalposts, and deflections to avoid discussing the very real fear and stress and pain and risk that animals face in rodeos so that humans can carry on hosting these events and participating in them and watching them.

At the same time, it’s clear that public opinion is increasingly critical of how animals are treated in rodeos. So I think that the fact that there is such strong pushback to criticism of these events shows that the industry is concerned about how the future of rodeo is going. Maybe this is not something that is sustainable to continue.

Amy: I think some of those observations apply to any type of advocacy or change.

Polling results on rodeo attitudes

Amy: Samantha, you recently collected some data about people’s perceptions of rodeo events and their responses to rodeo footage. What did you learn from that?

Samantha: People’s attitudes seem to be guided by a couple things, including:

  • the perceived cultural value of the event;
  • how the animals are treated; and
  • the risk and safety of the event.

And these are most influenced by like that person’s attitudes towards animal use in general.

There’s kind of these two ends of the spectrum.

On one side, somebody will think all animal use is okay, so all of these events are okay. And then on the other side, there’s no animal use is okay, so no event is okay. And these are kinda like hypothetical endpoints. Most people fall within kind of this gradient of how they view the use of animals.

Public perceptions of 4 rodeo events

And in this study in particular, it seemed to also be influenced by the species in the particular event and the age of the animal. For this study, we looked at four events:

  • Barrel racing;
  • Chuckwagon racing;
  • Bull riding; and
  • Calf roping.

In general, most people approve of the events using horses. I think there’s this relationship or perceived relationship between horses and riders, so most people think that horseback riding is okay. As a result, most people approved of barrel racing. For this event in particular, people recognize the importance of the place of women in rodeos.

There was a slight decrease in the approval of chuckwagon races, and this was due to the fact that a lot of people thought there was more risk involved in the event because of the number of horses and the proximity of the wagons.

More people disapproved a bull riding and felt like the animal was being exploited and angered for the sake of entertainment. Bull riding was most polarized in terms of the cultural significance. Some people in the U.S. in particular said it was in our all-American sport, it needs to be conserved; while others thought the event was barbaric and outdated.

It’s important to note for chuckwagon racing and bull riding, there was a lot of uncertainty in whether people approved or disapproved. And this might be due to like a lack of information or they’re kind of unable to pick which value is more important to them, the cultural aspect or the potential of harm to animals.

Finally, people most disapproved the calf roping event. People identified the age of the animal as a concern, referring to the calf a lot of the time as a small baby, which in turn may have led to them to perceive more stress and injury involved in the event. Some participants who approved of calf roping thought it showcased a vital skill for the meat industry in general.

Amy: What were you surprised by with all of these research findings?

Samantha: I thought it was interesting how much cognitive dissonance was present regarding animal use and entertainment.

Cognitive dissonance is a stress response when people have information that doesn’t align with their beliefs. And like you said, it can result in people either, discounting information or they’ll provide some sort of explanation to justify their beliefs.

In this study, the contradicting information was the safety and animal treatment versus this cultural value and historical value of the event.

People who approve of high levels of animal use don’t necessarily associate negative states to the animals, or they’ll even say the animal is enjoying the event. They are also more likely to say that training of participants and the rules in place or government rules protect the animals and the people from getting hurt, as another justification to those perceived risks.

And then on the other side, people who disapprove of all animal use were more likely to associate these negative animal welfare and risks, but they’re also more likely to disvalue any cultural significance. They would say things like, rodeos are like a Greek Colosseum and the viewers are violence seeking.

So there’s definitely this divide and this polarization.

Amy: Yeah, it’s really interesting because I think about just the ways that the animals experience the event, and then the ways that people think that they’re experiencing the event.

Based on the scientific evidence we have of animal behaviour, it can be drastically different.

We had one email from someone who said basically that they thought that the wild pony racing (a children’s event at the Calgary Stampede where the kids try to mount a pony that’s trying to get away and doesn’t want to be mounted) was important because the ponies almost always “win”. And winning means getting away, not getting mounted by the children. I thought that was really interesting because animals don’t have a concept of winning and losing; of competing against each other or competing against the children.

They aren’t winning exactly, but maybe they’re getting away or avoiding the stimuli that they find aversive. But the idea that we put that label on them gave me a real insight into how people shape their ideas about animal behavior.

How will survey data be used?

Chantelle: Samantha, this is really fascinating data. How do you think this could be used in the future?

Samantha: Survey data can help researchers identify the areas the public’s concerned about, and inform possible areas of future studies.

For example, providing more information about chuckwagon racing and bull riding—the events that there is a little bit more uncertainty about—could impact the approval of these events or clarify some of the perceptions around these events. Or, adding safety precautions to events that people are perceiving the safety risks such as chuckwagon races could also improve the acceptance and in turn the welfare of these events.

Amy: Is there anything you didn’t ask in the survey that now that you’ve gone through that process, that you’d want to study or ask in the future?

Samantha: Yeah, with these fairly strong opinions about culture and animal use, I think it would be interesting to investigate this a little further by providing potential changes or refinements that could happen in events and see if there’s still that cultural and entertainment value to it, as well as maybe a lower perceived risk.

For an example, if in calf roping you use the mechanical calf or breakaway ropes, which are ropes that once the animal’s caught it kind of releases the tension and breaks away, would they still find this event entertaining?

Amy: I’d be curious about that as well. Certainly I’ve seen people ride on mechanical bulls and have a great time. There’s so much scoring that goes down to the animals that I’m so curious if you took away the scoring of the animals and just had people be scored, it would be a little bit more consistent and maybe make it more of a sport.

So curious to see where the future takes us with rodeo.

Dropping animal events would not impact Stampede attendance

Amy: VHS actually gathered some polling data about opinions towards rodeos. Chantelle, I was wondering if you could talk about the findings from that poll.

Chantelle: Certainly. During last year’s stampede, the Vancouver Humane Society commissioned a Research Co. poll of Calgary residents to ask about their current plans to attend the Stampede; so if they were going to attend that year or if they had already attended that year, and also if they would attend in a future year if the rodeo and chuckwagon events were removed.

The poll found that there was virtually no change in attendance if those the rodeo and chuckwagons were dropped. 64% of people said they had attended that year or were likely to attend, and 63% said they would be likely to attend without the chucks and rodeo.

So although we’ve assumed the Stampede has continued hosting those inhumane animal events out of financial motivation, we can see that dropping them really wouldn’t have much impact on attendance at all.

The poll also showed that removing those events would draw in new crowds. 24% of people who didn’t attend last year expressed an interest in attending the Stampede if it didn’t have rodeo and chuck wagon racing.

Of the people who hadn’t attended and would change their behaviour, the biggest change was in the youngest group of people, where about two out of five non-attendees from last year (aged 18-34) would be likely to attend if the rodeo and chuckwagon races were removed.

That makes sense; we’ve heard from many people who won’t attend because of the animal suffering.

Beyond the animal events, there is another draw: the Stampede is a major arts and culture event. The concerts alone draw in hundreds of thousands of people every year. Coverage in the news of this year’s event pointed out that the events that do cause animal deaths almost every year don’t really resonate with the crowds coming for the concerts.

As there’s more information available and people are becoming more aware of what animals go through and how they experience the world, it would make sense for the Stampede to lean more into the concerts and the arts and the midway elements and start moving toward a rodeo-free future that’s more in line with the public’s values.

What’s next?

Amy: Thinking about what impacts that we can have, what can the people listening to this podcast do to support individual animals’ needs being met and their wants and desires being cared for, and put an end to some of these inhumane practices?

Chantelle: So there are really two major factors that are going to help end inhumane rodeo practices, and those are public opinion and policy change.

The first step is fewer people buying tickets and attending rodeos. The industry’s main motivation is profit, of course. So if people aren’t spending their money supporting those events, there’s really no financial motivation to continue them.

You can help with this by sharing the posts from the Rodeo Truth page on social media to show the realities of what animals experience in rodeo and encourage other people to boycott rodeo events.

Follow Rodeo Truth on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok and share the posts:

Secondly, you can help by asking your municipality’s mayor and council to introduce a bylaw that bans inhumane rodeo events.

Call for a bylaw

The City of Port Moody in B.C. recently passed a bylaw unanimously to prohibit inhuman rodeo events. The City of Vancouver and the District of North Vancouver also have bylaws in place.

This is a really impactful step, whether you live somewhere that hosts rodeos or not. If you live somewhere that doesn’t host rodeos currently, a proactive ban can be really important because it prevents new rodeos from being introduced, and it helps to grow the precedent for other municipalities to follow suit.

You can also take the Say No to Rodeo Pledge on the Rodeo Truth website, which we’ll share with Stampede organizers and Calgary decision-makers to show them that the public opposes those events.

Take the pledge

Next episode

We hope you’ll join us again next month for discussion on plant-based eating and health.


Call for an end to inhumane events at Chilliwack Rodeo 

This weekend’s Chilliwack Fair will feature controversial rodeo events including roping, wrestling, bucking and mutton busting (children riding sheep). 

Last year, the VHS documented numerous animal welfare issues during the Chilliwack Rodeo, including animals being roughly handled; stressed animals thrashing in the chutes in attempts to escape; and animals being put at risk of injury for the sake of public entertainment.  

Take action
Watch the video

Two actions to help animals used in cruel rodeo events

1) Send a message to Chilliwack City Council

Email Chilliwack decision-makers calling for an end to inhumane rodeo events at the Chilliwack Fair. Respectfully share your concerns as a tourist or Chilliwack resident about the treatment of animals in rodeo events and that you’d like to see the Fair continue without the rodeo.

Email Chilliwack City Council

In your own words, consider highlighting the following key points: 

  • Public polling shows a majority of British Columbians oppose the use of animals in rodeo. 
  • The handling and treatment of animals during rodeo events puts them at unnecessary risk of injury and death.  
  • Signs of stress and fear are clearly visible in photos and videos of animals during rodeo events. 
  • There are no shortage of other events and activities that can bring the community together at the Chilliwack Fair without putting animals in harm’s way.
  • It’s time for the Chilliwack Fair to drop inhumane rodeo events including roping, wrestling, bucking and mutton busting. 

2) Call for a bylaw prohibiting inhumane rodeo events in your community

Use the VHS’s quick action tool to call for a bylaw prohibiting inhumane rodeo events in your community.  

What happened at last year’s Chilliwack Rodeo?

What happened at Chilliwack Rodeo 2022?

Last year, the Vancouver Humane Society documented numerous animal welfare issues during the Chilliwack Rodeo, including animals being roughly handled; stressed animals thrashing in the chutes in attempts to escape; and animals being put at risk of injury for the sake of public entertainment.

Back to take action
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.


Advocacy continues after horse death at Calgary Stampede

Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals Media.

This year’s Calgary Stampede once again ended in tragedy with the death of a horse in Friday’s chuckwagon event. The fatal incident brings the total number of animal deaths at the Calgary Stampede to 105, including 75 chuckwagon horses, since the VHS began tracking fatalities in 1986.

In addition to Friday’s devastating incident, the VHS documented rough handling and signs of stress in animals throughout the rodeo events. Watch and share the videos below to help raise awareness of the routine suffering that animals experience during rodeo events. 

Take action
Read opinion piece

Watch & share the videos:

The above video outlines the many animal welfare concerns that arose at this year’s Calgary Stampede, including the tragic death of a horse used in the chuckwagon races.

Much work is needed to change public sentiment on the suffering of animals in rodeos. When the above video was shared on TikTok, several rodeo supporters commented that they saw “nothing wrong” with the handling of the animals. Hours later, the video was removed from the platform for violating their policy on animal abuse. This inhumane treatment is not simply an unfortunate accident in the rodeo industry—it is considered acceptable and expected as an inherent part of the events.

Please share these videos to help others see how animals suffer in rodeos and support a wider movement away from supporting inhumane animal events.

Take the #SayNoToRodeo pledge

61% of Canadians are opposed to the use of animals in rodeo. Take the #SayNoToRodeo pledge, which will be shared with decision-makers to reflect public opposition to inhumane rodeo events.

Call for a ban on inhumane rodeo events in your community

Some communities, including the City of Vancouver, the District of North Vancouver, and Port Moody, have municipal bylaws in place to prohibit inhumane rodeo events and practices. Call on your city council to follow this lead by implementing a bylaw in your community! 

Media Release

Vancouver Humane Society raises welfare concerns after three horse deaths at Hastings Racecourse 

VANCOUVER, August 10, 2023 – The Vancouver Humane Society (VHS) is once again speaking out against the use of animals in entertainment after recent reports that three horses lost their lives and another was injured in two weeks at Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse.

A five-year-old horse named One Fifty One was euthanized due to an unrecoverable injury sustained during a race on July 16. On July 22, a three-year-old horse named Lent Me Twenty fell backward prior to a race at The Cup and died. A four-year-old horse named Memorandum was euthanized after sustaining an injury in a July 30 race. 

“It’s heartbreaking, but unfortunately not surprising, to hear of horses losing their lives at these events,” said VHS Communications Director Chantelle Archambault. “Horses’ lives are put at risk each time they step on the track.”  

The VHS pointed out that the stressful, high-speed nature of the races poses inherent welfare concerns. Experts have noted that thoroughbreds are often overbred for speed rather than skeletal strength, making their legs susceptible to injury. The events also use painful tools like bits and whips to control horses’ movements.  

“Unlike human athletes, horses are not given the choice whether to participate and their short careers are marked by fear,” said Archambault.   

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.   

When they are retired, typically around four to six years old, horses who can no longer generate a profit are at risk of being sent to auction. There, unwanted horses are sold to the highest bidder including horsemeat buyers.  

Archambault noted, “When we use animals for entertainment, we’re seeing them as objects rather than the sentient beings that they are. These incidents show once again that the safety and well-being of horses is not adequately taken into account.”  

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SOURCE Vancouver Humane Society   

For more information, contact Chantelle Archambault: 604-416-2903,