By Rachel Ballard
With rodeo season underway, animal rights activists are encouraging the public to buck the trend and stay away from the show.
According to David Berg, legislative director for the Utah Animal Rights Coalition, although a rodeo may be entertaining for spectators, it is dangerous for its most important participants – the animals.
“There is not a single thing done in a rodeo that is also done on a working ranch,” Berg said. “Not only would you not be able to do any of the things in a rodeo on a working ranch, but you would likely be prosecuted for it.
“They (the animals) are made to act wild through abuse, and pretty extreme abuse at that.”
According to animal rights activists, the public is seldom aware of what rodeo animals endure.
“They don”t get to go home to a green pasture,” said Colleen Gardner, regional director of Showing Respect for Animals. “They get loaded back onto trucks and driven over hot highways to the next rodeo.”
Gardner, who used to participate in rodeo in Ogden, said her opinion of rodeo changed when she stopped looking at the cowboys and started focusing on the animals.
“You”ll go to rodeos, and you”ll see them (the stock animals) standing out in pens that are on pavement with no shade, no food and no water,” she said. “If they get injured, they go straight to the slaughterhouse.”
Berg said the abuse does not stop when the animals enter the arena. Calf roping and the bucking events are two of the biggest animal rights culprits.
“Dropping a rope around the neck of a 2-month-old baby, running it up to 27 miles and hour, and jolting it to a dead stop is not a good thing,” Berg said as he described calf roping.
He added that abuse is central to getting the calves out of the gate and into the arena.
“There is someone in the back behind them, typically, grabbing their tail and just cranking it, rubbing it across bars – things that are extremely painful to the animal,” Berg said.
In addition, Berg said the animals in the bucking events do not buck naturally.
“It”s actually because of a bucking strap cinched extremely tightly around their flank areas, just in front of their hind legs,” he said. “The instant it”s released, they”ll stop and go down to a more docile state.”
But Cindy Schonholtz, animal welfare coordinator for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which sanctions 30 percent of rodeos nationwide, including 23 in Utah this year, said abuse is not tolerated and rules exist to protect the animals.
According to the association”s animal welfare booklet, “The truth is, it would be senseless for anyone connected with rodeo to treat their animals with anything less than the best of care.”
The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association”s rules say a veterinarian must be present for each rodeo performance. In addition, those who abuse animals may be fined up to $250 and disqualified from competition. The fine doubles with each additional offense.
But, according to animal rights activists, these rules exist only on paper.
“The PRCA does have some rules, which amount to nothing more than public relations,” Berg said.
“In 2001, there were 27 mistreatment rules violations reported by PRCA rodeo judges,” she said. “This information shows that animal welfare rules are seldom broken, but when they are, the judges do not hesitate to report the violation to the PRCA office for enforcement procedures.”
Schonholtz said the rules apply to all rodeo events, and the animals do not suffer maltreatment.
“The cattle in the tie-down roping have the natural instinct to run when the gate is open, similar to the instinct of a racehorse when the gate is opened,” she said.
In addition, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association”s rules specify that bucking straps must be lined with sheepskin and cannot be fastened so tightly that they would cause pain.
“The flank strap encourages a horse that already has the natural inclination to buck to kick higher,” Schonholtz said.
Nonetheless, the Utah Animal Rights Coalition plans to make its presence known through protests at this year”s Days of ”47 Rodeo in Salt Lake.
“We”ll be there outside of the Days of ”47 Rodeo every day,” Berg said.