Keep the show bands but chuck the chuckwagons to end harm to animals at the Calgary Stampede

When I teach animal law this autumn at UBC law school, I will say that June 2019 was a very good month for animals in Canada. We made the country better for cetaceans by passing a bill to end cetaceans in captivity, tightened loopholes against bestiality and animal fighting and banned the import and export of shark fins, but like clockwork, we still have the Stampede every July.

Keep the show bands but chuck the chuckwagons to end harm to animals at the Calgary Stampede
Victoria Shroff

The justification for having a rodeo based on the heritage/culture argument has worn very thin. 

When I teach animal law this autumn at UBC law school, I will say that June 2019 was a very good month for animals in Canada. We made the country better for cetaceans by passing a bill to end cetaceans in captivity, tightened loopholes against bestiality and animal fighting and banned the import and export of shark fins, but like clockwork, we still have the Stampede every July. 

The way we understand animal welfare has changed since 1886 when animals were used in agriculture and entertainment in ways that are no longer acceptable or humane. I'm not saying ban Stampede, I'm saying modernize it so that it accords with animal welfare. 

Many traditions involving animals are no longer acceptable, necessary or justifiable, such as keeping whales in aquaria. One need not be an animal lawyer, a vet or animal behaviourist to see that animals do not enjoy the experience and stress of a rodeo. They are dying for it to end. 

Horses do love to run, but not as unwilling participants tied to chuckwagons where they face injury and death. These are not merely risks. They've happened six times in a 10-day event. What's the sport in that? It's time to chuck the chuckwagons. Keep the show bands but end the harm to animals at the Calgary Stampede’s Half-Mile of Hell chuckwagon races.

There's a reason why The Calgary Humane Society has added their voice to animal rights groups such as Calgary Animal Rights Effort in demanding a ban on chuckwagon and rodeo events. CBC reported that Stampede organizers are "committed to initiating a thorough review process" regarding chuckwagon safety, but did not give specifics.

It seems as if safety measures to keep the horses safe that were tried in the past didn't work because the chuckwagon racing is inherently risky, so that argument is moot. We’ve seen horses hitting guard rails, broken legs from racing and another dying from internal medical issues (why was the horse being raced at all?). According to CARE, since 1886, when the Calgary and District Agricultural Society held its first fair, some 100 horses participating in Stampede events have died. The Vancouver Humane Society added its voice about the stress on animals at Stampede as they cycle through fear and pain in the name of entertainment. 

I understand the Calgary heritage angle, the aim to have fun with western history part, but when animals die, it spurs the issue from being about Calgary to making it about animals and their needs. I get that cowboys will be cowboys, but there's a way to keep the Stampede going without having animals sacrificed year after year as entertainers. The show bands are a huge part of the event and they truly are entertaining; the midway, the food and more. In 2017, Calgary Stampede festival unveiled a new a multi-player VR chuck wagon racing experience, which apparently was a big hit. Mechanical bull riding anyone?

The Stampede website boasts that it has nightly concerts and constant Midway action, as well as a variety of other entertaining shows that run daily. So Cowboys and cowgirls can still wear their 10-gallon hats and chaps, but focus on activities that don't harm animals for the sake of entertainment and money.

Several SPCA's and Humane Societies throughout the world oppose rodeos for a reason. Rodeos have been banned in England for over 80 years due to public outrage. The Vancouver Humane Society stated on its website that "VHS is well known for its campaigns against rodeo cruelty and many compassionate Canadians have supported our efforts. But most animal welfare organizations here in Canada and around the world also oppose rodeo.”

The ASPCA policy statement on rodeo states: “The ASPCA is opposed to all rodeo events that involve cruel, painful, stressful and potentially harmful treatment of livestock, not only in performance but also in handling, transport and prodding to perform. The ASPCA recognizes the cruel treatment inflicted on many additional animals in the process of practicing to compete in rodeo events.”

The trend in Canada is rightly toward better treatment of animals in society. Animal welfare issues surrounding Stampede have shown that it's time to move on, to modernize the Stampede and rodeos in general, to keep animals safe from harm instead of using them as hapless entertainers in an outdated, outmoded event with the possible side-effect of death. Rodeos are not exempt from the Alberta animal cruelty laws either. Stampede ended on July 14.  The way I see it they've got a full year to change or they should be shut down.  

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