Calgary Stampede perpetuates tradition of animal abuse

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Nothin’ says party like sex, booze, rock ’n roll and animal abuse. The annual Calgary Stampede, also known as the “greatest outdoor show on Earth,” just wrapped up its 10-day celebration of man’s dominance over baby cows.

Okay. I don’t want to sell it short. More than one million people flocked to Calgary, Canada, in an attempt to re-live romantic notions of the “old west.” But like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show, the Calgary Stampede is a glorified spectacle of a time when the true wild beauty of the West was being stolen from Native Americans and regurgitated into land more suitable for livestock and Europeans.

The seriously abusive events that people actually sit and enjoy include, of course, the calf roping, where a 3-month-old calf is taken from its mother, poked and prodded while caged in front of thousands of jeering spectators so that it jolts out of the chute at 27 miles an hour, roped by its neck and jerked to a complete stop, thrown to the ground and tied, all in the name of some good-old-fashioned, harmless fun.

But my gran-daddy’s been ropin’ cattle since we killed all the wild animals off this land a hundred years ago so if you don’t like it, leave. Really. I get that a lot. But the funny thing is people got really upset when I stole a few kids from their mothers to use as house slaves, even though my great-great gran-daddy helped make this country what it is today doing the same thing. Weird, right?

But baby cows aren’t the only ones who suffer in the name of entertaining the ruling class. The chuckwagon event pits teams of horses pulling wagons against each other in a terrifying dash for the finish line.

More than 50 horses have died in the event since 1986, and three died this year, to the giddy horror of the spectators. Real cowboys didn’t race chuckwagons, and they’d most likely find our modern attempt to manufacture the true dangers they were forced to face every day pretty pathetic.

Old-school cowboys never felt the need to straddle a bucking bull, and if they ever did it may have been more a problem of loneliness on the prairie rather than a need to assert their machismo.

Then there’s the semi-feral horses specifically bred to buck – every little girl’s dream. We can argue that bucking annoying little men off their back could be fun, but after their carefree days of manhandling cowboys are over, what happens to them? And what happens to the hippie horses that are bred to buck, but maybe prefer chillin’ lakeside?

CTV News reported that about 20 horses a year bred at the Calgary Stampede ranch that aren’t angry enough to entertain spectators at the “greatest outdoor show on Earth,” or at lesser outdoor shows, are sent to slaughter.

After all, we can’t expect the people making the big bucks off these animals to support them after they are no longer profitable. That would just be silly.

But why spend the time and energy harping over the treatment of rodeo animals when billions of these same types of animals are so horribly abused in factory farms only to be killed and consumed to the detriment of the environment and our health? Isn’t it better that they get some years breathing outside of a factory farm than living their entire, pathetic lives within the confines of a feed lot?

This is a convenient guilt dismissal for those who have it in them to enjoy things like rodeos, or circuses. But the existence of unimaginable cruelty has never been an excuse for just a bit of cruelty. I might be less disgusted by rodeos if the animals doing the hard work retired to enjoy the fruits of their labor, but obviously, this is not the case.

Embracing and respecting tradition is not an all-or-nothing game. We take what was good and perpetuate it. We remember what was harmful, and work to learn from our mistakes.

The Aztecs of Mexico were remarkable astronomers, but they also had a tradition of sacrificing and eating their prisoners of war. Modern Aztec descendants can embrace the wisdom of their ancestors without committing the same cruelty upon their enemies.

We can celebrate the courageous, adventurous and enterprising spirit that many of our ancestors embodied as they set out to brave the unknown of the “wild west” without perpetuating the cruelty that may even have been a necessity at one time in the past.

Sex, booze and rock ’n roll – count me in. Animal abuse should be a thing of the past.

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  • Tina Page

    Tina is a journalist and mother of three who's lived all her life in the South Bay of Los Angeles except for a two-year stint in the heart of Spain. She believes humans have the capacity to make this a beautiful world for all species to live, and mothers have a special charge to raise their children to enjoy, love and respect all creatures.

3 thoughts on “Calgary Stampede perpetuates tradition of animal abuse”

  1. I would wager that not a few of those million attend the chuck wagon races in hopes of seeing the carnage. Reportedly, some 55 horses have been killed at Calgary since 1986. What if all those fatalities had been human rather than animal? Would that make a difference? The chucks should be banned nationwide. If the cowboys TRULY “loved their animals like family” (yeah, right), then they would not subject them to such scenarios where they risk serious injury and/or death.

    Frankly, I think the perpetrators should be cited for animal endangerment, just like child endangerment. Even the cowboys say these horses are like their own children. Then let’s take them at their word and punish the offending adults accordingly.

    Same goes for calf roping. Did you see the Reno Rodeo last month? Two roping calves fatally injured in “jerk downs” (a PRCA violation). A calf with a broken neck was STILL tied by the cowboy, while his horse continued to drag the injured calf by the neck. Some “sport”! Heads should roll.

    Eric Mills, coordinator
    Oakland, California

  2. I was actually pleased to see that the writer had mentioned feed lots, what I consider a barbaric form of animal treatment.

    Humans keep pets for amusement.. no other reason.. some people argue that they are a part of the family, but this same quote is used by the folks who raise and race stock, and they truly do treat their stock better than most people treat their pets.. Now lets examine the ‘danger’. 5.4 million dogs die of road accidents annually in the US. 2 more million in the US are euthanized following the consumption of poultry bones and other sharp items and yet nearly another 3 million die from drinking antifreeze. This is the “risk” of entertainment that people subject their pets to from ignorance, apathy and in some cases purposeful abuse. Pets are at highest risk when in a household of smaller children. These statistics are only based on information delivered by pet owners.. Many if not most will simply bury their pets, so stats are on the low side. Pets are euthanized when it’s determined that their owners cannot keep up with the vet bills or become to onerous to care for.. When entertainment becomes more of a burden.

    The fact is, the stock in the stampede and other rodeos are rescued animals from the track. They are headed for Dr. Ballards, but these folks adopt them as pets.. for entertainment and a shot at the big prize. They endure a risk taking ratio not completely out of line of the typical pet owner. They DO treat them as pets, often better than most people treat their pets. The horses lead a much longer life and are usually treated much better than the life from which they came.

    It was a bit comical to see protesters in full force (about 15 or so) out at the Stampede, however one newspaper managed to catch one protester scarfing down a corndog while another looked on wearing leather sandals and a beaver cowboy hat with leather strap and strings.

  3. If you are going to rail against the Calgary Stampede, at least use photos from their rodeo. It’s unfair to paint the Calgary Stampede with the same brush that Cheyenne rightly deserves. I know why you didn’t though, team roping (which is not an event at the stampede) has good visual punch, and as for tie-down, it’s hard to find a picture from Calgary that shows a calf showing the signs of stress like the one you found.


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