Earlier this month, the City of Edmonton said no to the rodeo. Specifically, the city refused to bid for a new contract with the Canadian Finals Rodeo (CFR), ending a 42-year run as host of the event -- the national championship of Canadian rodeo. After its final November performance in Edmonton, the CFR will be homeless. And it appears most Canadians would prefer it that way.
A December 2015 survey by polling company Insights West found that only three in 10 Canadians are in favour of using animals in rodeos. The survey showed a solid majority of Canadians (63 per cent) are opposed to rodeos. Alberta is the only province with a majority (57 per cent) in favour of rodeo but even there 36 per cent are opposed (and a further eight per cent are "not sure"). It's not an encouraging picture for promoters of the "sport" but it's not hard to see why the public has turned against it.
Rodeos subject animals to fear, stress, pain and the risk of injury for the sake of entertainment. Three-month-old calves running at speeds up to 27 miles an hour are roped to a sudden halt, picked up, thrown to the ground and tied up. Steers have their necks twisted until they fall to the ground or are roped by the horns and hind legs, often stretching the animal off its feet. Horses and bulls are tormented by a "flank strap" tied around their hindquarters, which is tightened to make them buck. When it comes to ethically indefensible uses of animals, rodeo is near the top of the list.
Any city thinking of hosting the Canadian Finals Rodeo (Saskatoon and Calgary have reportedly considered making bids) should look at how public attitudes are changing toward rodeo and other uses of animals in entertainment.
"Are we humans so hard up for entertainment that we must amuse ourselves by watching events that can cause animals to suffer and die?" -- Naomi Lakritz, Calgary Herald
Aside from the polling data, there are clear signs rodeo is becoming less socially acceptable. One indication is the increasingly negative reaction in independent, mainstream media, which intensified in 2015 during the Calgary Stampede.
Last July, an editorial in the Vancouver Sun said that it was "hard to argue" with the description of the Calgary Stampede as "a spectacle of animal abuse." This is the first time a major Canadian newspaper has taken an editorial position opposing rodeo.
A few days earlier, a column in the Calgary Herald, authored by a member of the Herald's editorial board stated: "...the bottom line is these animals are still being used for sheer entertainment in events that can cause them traumatic injuries and death -- and it is unnecessary for them to be subjected to this. Are we humans so hard up for entertainment that we must amuse ourselves by watching events that can cause animals to suffer and die?"
Elsewhere on the prairies, an editorial in the Moose Jaw Times-Herald criticized the Calgary Stampede, stating: "Shutting down the rodeo portion of the Stampede deserves serious consideration."
Meanwhile, the BBC drew international attention to the deaths of chuckwagon horses at the Stampede with a lengthy analysis titled "Why horses die on the half-mile of hell."
Yet another piece, entitled "If you love horse racing then you'll agree, the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon deaths need to stop" appeared in Metro Canada News.
Finally, a columnist in the Ottawa Citizen described watching the CBC coverage of the Stampede, stating: "...it was impossible not to feel empathy for the poor animals, so clearly unwilling participants in this painful and terrifying circus. In the name of tradition, the CBC broadcast an ugly and cruel spectacle, one that felt like it took place in a dark, shameful past that the public no longer wanted to acknowledge, or had an appetite for."
Not really the kind of coverage you want for your particular brand of "entertainment" is it?
Perhaps the media is finally catching up to mainstream opinion in the animal welfare community, which is clearly against rodeo. Virtually all major animal welfare agencies are opposed to rodeo, including the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies and the national SPCAs of the United States, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the UK.
Rodeos, with their brutal treatment of unwilling animal participants, are surely among the worst examples of animal exploitation and abuse.
The lack of public support shown by polling, the negative media opinion and the positions taken by animal groups have begun to have real consequences for rodeo, at least on the West Coast. In the last two years, two B.C. professional rodeos have gone out of business. The Luxton Rodeo near Victoria and the Mighty Fraser Rodeo in Abbotsford were cancelled after campaigns by animal advocates. In 2007, the Cloverdale Rodeo in Surrey dropped half its events, including calf-roping, after a similar campaign. There are now no sanctioned professional rodeos on Vancouver Island or in B.C.'s Lower Mainland. The City of Vancouver has also banned rodeos, ending performances at the Pacific National Exhibition.
The specific opposition to rodeo is important, but city officials who might still consider hosting the Canadian Finals Rodeo should also look at the big picture when it comes to changing public opinion regarding animals in entertainment. The recent announcement by SeaWorld to phase out its performing orca whale shows and the decision by Ringling Bros. Circus to stop using performing elephants should make it clear to anyone that the public is turning against the use of performing animals.
Rodeos, with their brutal treatment of unwilling animal participants, are surely among the worst examples of animal exploitation and abuse. They should be among the first to disappear. Canada's cities should refuse to host such cruel spectacles and ensure that's exactly what happens.
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