What’s The Beef With The Calgary Stampede?

Calf Roping

So recently feathers have been ruffled people have been causing a ruckus around an ad attempted to be published in the two major Calgary papers. The ad, produced by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS), depicts a competing cowboy calf-roping a calf as a bully/baby relationship.

Peter Fricker of the Vancouver Humane Society on Monday:

We think the calf roping is one of the cruelest of rodeo events. We felt that there wasn’t any other major animal protection group taking on that issue at the stampede.

Obviously, whats good for the goose must be good for the gander he has some hangups.

One may wonder why the Vancouver Humane Society is the one doing the protesting. Are the Calgary Human Society volunteers to busy working in their oil rigs and churches to care about a poor defenseless animal? VHS must have thought so: they didn’t even contact the CHS before pitching the ad. Actually, the CHS has chosen the high ground and rather than crowing complaining about the issue from a distance, they are actually on the ground involved in the Stampede. Rodeo events at the Stampede are monitored by both the Alberta Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the CHS.

The role of livestock and animals central to the theme of the Stampede. The event has persisted for more than 97 years since Guy Weadick produced the first “Frontier Days and Cowboy Championship Contest in 1912”. The idea was and remains to be a celebration of the pioneer spirit that settled the Prairies. Along with the rodeo there are shows and exhibitions such as the World Blacksmithing Championship, petting zoos, milking demos, and live auctions. The Aboriginal Plains People have been a crucial part of the celebration since the Stampede’s 1912 inception and allows us city folk to learn and take part in tipi raising contests, trying bannock, and learning about traditional music and dance. It truly is an event that allows Calgarians and Albertans to be proud as peacocks about their history.

And yet, it is the apparent horrors of the Rodeo that always attract the attention of animal rights activists like moths to a flame.

VHS Attepmted Roping Ad

The events that occur at the Calgary Stampede rodeo and at other rodeos around the world are based off of the daily activities of the ranching pioneer’s who settled the plains (save perhaps bull riding, that started out of boredom). If you are moving a herd of cattle from one grazing area to another and a calf breaks away from the main herd, whats a cowboy to do? Call the SPCA to pick it up for them? No, you rope it, just like they’re doing in the competition.

These events didn’t start out as a competitive event. When Weadick started the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition, it was to exhibit the prairie way of life. There was no professional rodeos, just local joes who came out to meet, have a laugh, and have a go. The historical culture that persists at the Stampede should be celebrated as a part of this nation’s history, just as we still allow various aboriginal Canadians to practice their traditional hunting.

What about the actual animal injuries as a result from tie-down roping? The VHS claims that “Calves roped while running routinely have their necks snapped back by the lasso, often resulting in neck injuries.” They are all hat and no cattle. In reality, injuries are incredibly rare. A report done by the New Zealand Rodeo Cowboys Association (NZRCA) and the National Animal Welfare Advosry Committee (NZ) states:

The NZRCA has collected statistics over the last 20 years and reports that there is a very low level of injuries. Injuries are probably overestimated since any sort of injury from a small laceration to a fractured limb or death are recorded. In the period January 1999-Feburary 2000, injuries recorded by veterinarians, from trucking and yarding associated with rodeos, as well as those related to the events, numbered 42 out of 5527 animals (0.76%). Calf roping accounted for 4 of those injuries (out of 646 calves) and one calf was euthanased. Reports from the USA also indicate that there are few injuries associated with the modern rodeo. For example, one minor injury out of 915 calfroping runs (August-September 1994), 15 injuries from 27,767 animal runs at 19 rodeos (1998-1999) and 15 injuries from 26,584 animal runs at 21 rodeos (1998-2000).

Full report here.

That’s far fewer injuries than you would expect sending your kid out to play little league soccer.

The animal rights debate will resurface at every Stampede, and it should. It is important to make sure that we are keeping watch of our practices and treating the livestock well. But lets get real here: the Malibu princesses walking around with a little dog inside their purses are being just as cruel as the cowboys at a rodeo. These activists, although well intentioned, are making a mountain out of a molehill overreacting.

We wouldn’t want to celebrate the role that animals have had in our society and history would we?

I’ll be watching the Stampede this week, cheering on my favourite roper – Fred Whitfield.

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Geoff is a 5th year student who studying a double major in Integrated Science (Evolutionary ecology, virology) and Political Science. He was the 'Wish' speaker at the 2008 Terry Talks and is passionate about university education, especially when it comes to interdisciplinary experiences. After graduation Geoff wants to find a job that allows him to meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and share stories. If your savvy enough you can follow Geoff on Twitter - user: gcosteloe.