No event is a stronger symbol of Canadian cowboy culture than the Calgary Stampede. So Albertans are understandably excited to welcome Prince William and Kate to the popular rodeo.
At the same time, rodeos epitomize the passionate debate over humans’ use and abuse of animals. So People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is urging the royal couple to refuse the Stampede invitation.
The Montreal Gazette quotes PETA senior campaigner Virginia Fort as saying, “The royal couple has a choice to be there. The animals don’t have a choice. Simply by endorsing the Stampede itself, they are contributing to the animal abuse.”
Dr. Ed Pajor, Professor of Animal Welfare at the University of Calgary, has a different take on the issues in his article for the Calgary Herald. He points to “a growing concern for the ‘emotional’ wellbeing of the animals, which is increasingly considered to be as important as health or productivity.” As examples he cites improvements in animal handling that have resulted from consumer pressure.
Pajor also writes, “Organizations such as the Calgary Stampede have to deal with another significant challenge. These days, much of our society lives far from the farm or ranch, and so they have no connection to the use of animals that remain so commonplace in rural Canada.”
During a decade as owner of a small ranch in the heart of British Columbia, I learned firsthand what Pajor describes. Between my quarter section and the nearest town, Williams Lake, lay the ranches of people who had generations of experience with livestock. One of those ranches was home to a herd of rodeo bulls.
These were not ordinary bulls. Most males of the bovine species have little interest in bucking. Even the irritation of a strap tied around its flank (not its testicles) will not persuade the bull to give a cowboy a bone-rattling, money-winning ride. So a good bucking bull is worth upwards of $50,000. Animals that valuable are handled with care.
Still, even in cattle country a lot of people have grave reservations about animals in rodeos. So every year one of the other owners of C+ would offer “animal athlete” tours behind the scenes at the Williams Lake Stampede. They may not have made converts, but they did ease some of the concerns.
Rodeos are symbolic of the complex and often troubling relationships between humans and animals. Pressure from activist groups leads to continuous improvements in handling and welfare of rodeo animals. While it can’t bridge the rural/urban gap that makes rodeo culture mystifying to those who have never lived in cattle country, openness on both sides can lead to better dialogue and understanding.
The public nature of rodeos allows for a kind of oversight that comes only spottily to chickens crammed in cages, cattle standing in the muck of crowded feedlots, calves in veal cages, dogs and cocks forced to fight, laboratory animals subjected to horrendous treatment, and so many other examples of animal cruelty. Keeping the spotlight on the welfare of animals used for human entertainment helps keep these and other animal-rights issues front and center.
Mahatma Gandhi expressed it simply: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
[photo credit] Paul J. Everett
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