Despite what rodeo promoters say, the evidence is clear that the animals suffer
Early on, the controversy over the Luxton Pro Rodeo in Langford, B.C. revolved around Pamela Anderson’s Twitter intervention, dubious allegations about harassment of rodeo sponsors and how the upkeep of the Luxton Fairgrounds can best be funded. Finally, the media focus is now on the animals.
The central question is, or should be, do rodeo animals suffer or don’t they? Rodeo organizers generally avoid the question by referring to the importance of our Western heritage, or by repeating stock phrases like: “We treat these animals like family.”
Unless cowboys routinely chase, rope, pick up and slam their aunts or grandmothers to the ground, it’s hard to see the treatment of rodeo animals as comparable to familial relationships.
Another standard defence is that rodeo is a sport and the animals are athletes that want to compete. But unlike human athletes the animals have no choice in the matter.
Does anyone really believe that an animal would choose to be goaded into an arena to be roped and tied or wrestled to the ground in front of a baying crowd? Are horses and bulls bucking because being spurred by an unwanted rider on their backs and having a cinch strap tightened around their flanks feels good?
It is self-evident that a three-month-old calf being chased across an arena, roped to a jarring halt and thrown to the ground will feel fear, stress and pain. Common sense should make this obvious, but expert opinion also supports the contention.
Dr. Bernard Rollin, a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University, has written: “Even ranchers are uncomfortable with such an event because the immature animal surely experiences fear and physical pain when jerked at the end of a rope.” (There is a big difference between calf-roping as genuine ranch practice and the sensationalized, high-pressure rodeo event. No one ever timed a real cowboy’s work with a stop-watch and handed out huge sums of money for being the fastest.)
The renowned animal behaviourist, Temple Grandin, who has led the scientific research into the effect of fear on livestock has stated: “The single worst thing you can do to an animal emotionally is to make it feel afraid. Fear is so bad for animals I think it’s worse than pain.” If she’s right, imagine the torment experienced by calves and other rodeo animals.
Perhaps the easiest way to judge whether rodeo is cruel is to look at the ample photographic and video evidence available online. Animal welfare groups, especially in the United States, have recorded numerous animal injuries and deaths at rodeos but just looking at the terrified faces of calves, steers and horses should convince anyone that they are suffering.
One tell-tale sign, if confirmation were needed, is the whites of animals’ eyes often showing in close-up photos. Grandin has written: “When eye white is visible, the animal is agitated and frightened. Two scientific studies have verified the correlation between visible eye white and fear.”
It is worth remembering that all this fear, stress, pain – and sometimes injury and death – is for the sake of entertainment. This is not cattle ranching. No food is produced. Rodeo is just a cruel circus using farm animals.
Some will still say that this is all propaganda by animal rights activists or overly-sentimental animal lovers. If so, then why are virtually all mainstream animal welfare organizations in the developed world opposed to rodeo? This includes our own BC SPCA, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies, the Humane Society of Canada and the national SPCAs of the United States, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
These are the agencies we entrust with the prevention of cruelty to animals and they have determined that many rodeo events are cruel.
So, do rodeo animals suffer? Yes they do. And the only remaining question is why do we allow their suffering to continue? Or, more pertinently, why does a sophisticated and civilized city like Victoria allow this to happen on its doorstep at the Luxton Pro Rodeo in Langford?
Take action against animal cruelty at the Luxton rodeo.