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This article was published 29/7/2019 (542 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s time to rethink the rodeo.
The deaths of six chuckwagon horses at this year’s Calgary Stampede have sharply intensified long-standing calls from animal rights advocates for an end to the races and the rodeo itself.
Those highly publicized deaths tied this year’s Stampede with 2010 as the event’s second-deadliest year for chuckwagon horses. The deadliest year was 1986, when 12 horses died.
The Calgary controversy prompted a small number of local activists to protest outside the Manitoba Stampede in Morris, where a heifer later had to be euthanized after being accidentally injured in a cattle-penning competition.
But you don’t have to be an activist to be concerned about the death toll in chuckwagon racing, which accounts for more than two-thirds of the animal deaths at what Calgary bills as "The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth."
The hue and cry would be deafening if, instead of horses, six dogs or six cats had lost their lives at an event held primarily for human entertainment.
Even Calgarians, the custodians of Western Canada’s cowboy culture, are starting to have their doubts.
"Polls among Calgarians themselves show folks are close to split about the chucks, when asked if the event should be done away with. Gone are the days where animal rights supporters could be dismissed as fringe loons from B.C. who didn’t get our western way of life. Nope, now it’s your neighbour," columnist Chris Nelson wrote in the Calgary Herald.
"And those people against the chucks won’t stop there. If that event goes, then focus will shift to the rodeo — using animals as a form of entertainment is increasingly viewed as immoral."
Canadian-born actor and activist Pamela Anderson added her voice to the protest, sending a letter to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his agriculture minister urging them to quash the popular rodeo event.
And in an article for Canadian Lawyer magazine, animal law expert Victoria Shroff argued animals are literally dying for the races to end: "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."
Outside of anti-rodeo lobbyists, few would want to see the demise of the historic stampedes, which have become tightly intertwined with the cultural fabric of Western Canada.
What is clear, however, is that rodeos must do a far better job of ensuring the safety of the animals on which they depend. Most of society has come to accept that animals can have jobs, but it also expects them to be provided with humane working conditions.
In Calgary, Stampede officials have pledged a thorough review of the races. They have made many changes over the years to improve animal safety — everything from smaller wagons to microchips that monitor a horse’s race history — but still the deaths continue.
The stampedes in Calgary and Morris are in the rear-view mirror now, but the rodeo circuit is still in full swing in Western Canada and across the U.S.
Organizers must do better unless they want to follow in the footsteps of what used to be the "Greatest Show on Earth," the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which folded its tents largely because activists helped change public tastes.
The doomed circus learned too late that bears do not enjoy riding bicycles and elephants aren’t happy working for peanuts.