Horse Deaths Lead to AR Campaign

16/7/10

Death of 6 horses stirs animal-rights debate at Stampede’

No one cares more about animals than the owners,’ says supporter

Chuckwagons race earlier this week at the Calgary Stampede. A petition from a U.K.-based lobby group is protesting the rodeo as cruel to animals. - Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

 

CALGARY—For a Calgarian, it’s a tough admission to make: Rhonda Pomfrey says she went through a stage in her youth when she questioned the existence of the rodeo.

“I went from loving the Stampede as a kid and then I began questioning why was it necessary to put the horses through all that,” says Pomfrey, stroking the nose of a grey horse and contemplating how a horse would look in her backyard. But then Pomfrey, visiting the Calgary Stampede along with her 10-year-old daughter Jayden and son Jake, 6, says she grew to understand why men and women rope calves, race chuck-wagons or sit on bucking steers.

She says an invitation from family friends, members of the Sutherland rodeo family, helped change her mind. She witnessed the dedication of the chuckwagon drivers, who slept beside the horses in the stables, how well cared for the animals were, with sick livestock tended to around the clock.

“No one can tell me after seeing that in real life that anyone else cares more about the animal's well-being than their owners,” Pomfrey says.

Over its nearly 100-year history, the Calgary Stampede has faced questions over the treatment of animals. This year, with six horses dead, the criticism is mounting — and gaining notoriety because of a U.K-based protest.

The League Against Cruel Sport began a petition, encouraging British members of parliament, to condemn the rodeo at the Stampede. The league also lobbied travel agents to stop arranging tours to Alberta during the 10-day-long Calgary event.

League spokesman Steve Taylor says fellow Britons are “surprised they still have rodeos.”

Rodeos were banned in the U.K. in 1934 — as a result of one of the league’s first actions. “People are genuinely shocked that this is still going on.”

Taylor doesn’t buy the argument that the rodeo should be supported because of its roots in farming tradition. The league, he points out, successfully lobbied for the ban against another long-standing tradition that it also deemed cruel: fox-hunting in the U.K. But Deb Erickson takes exception to Taylor’s comments.

“It's easy to say there shouldn't be a rodeo but anyone who has 400 head of cattle home on a 4,000-acre ranch knows what we're demonstrating here is a way of life,” says Erickson, who handles the horses for her family’s ranches, Highland Stables and Erickson Farms. “Anyone who eats a hamburger for dinner or buys a loaf of bread should recognize that this is all part of it, it's part of our history and we need to make sure that there is a future in agriculture if we want to continue eating.”

The rodeo, she says, highlights agriculture, and provides a tangible link between the work farmers and ranchers do, and the food that Canadians eat. Of the six horses that have died so far this year, two suffered heart attacks, three were put down because of injuries; one death remains unresolved. It is not the worst year on record: in 1986, 12 horses died and in 2005, nine died while crossing a bridge on their way to the Stampede.

Veterinarian Renaud Leguillette, who teaches at the University of Calgary's veterinary school and is volunteering at the Stampede, says the horses' deaths do not necessarily mean the animals are being pushed beyond their physical limits.

“They're like any other athletes. These horses are built for speed by nature. They are designed to be athletic.”

Leguillette said surveys show that less than 0.05 per cent of rodeo events lead to an animal fatality.

“It is very competitive yes, there are lots of accidents and we should avoid them when we can but we cannot eliminate them.”

A local animal rights activist argues that rodeo events deliberately put animals in harm's way.

Lisa Shaw, who organized protests in front of the Stampede entrance, says it was obvious that most people going to the Stampede did not want to hear about animal rights.

“We're told we're weak-kneed vegetarians and they try to reflect the reality which is cruelty to the animals,” says Shaw. “We're told again and again they love their animals but they cannot answer why they continue to throw them in harm's way by having them compete for entertainment.”

Stampede spokesman Doug Fraser said the rodeo is an inseparable part of what organizers have long touted as the Greatest Show on Earth with midway rides, fair foods and games. The Stampede contributes $350-million annually to the southern Alberta economy.

“What's happened is truly unusual and truly upsetting,” says Fraser. “All we can say is to those who oppose us, is we respect their opinion and hope they will respect our right to our opinion.”

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/836975--death-of-6-horses-stirs-animal-rights-debate-at-stampede

From Dusk 'til Dawn
An Insider's View of the Growth of the Animal Liberation Movement

© Keith Mann
puppypincher@yahoo.co.uk