Last Wednesday at the Calgary Stampede, steer wrestler Zane Hankel wrestled a steer to the ground in 4.4 seconds. The animal never rose to his feet again. Hankel had snapped his neck.
Out came the infamous black tarps so the audience wouldn’t be troubled by what had just happened. Just as the tarps did last year, when three horses were killed in a chuck wagon accident. Just as they did in 2010 when six horses were killed. And in 2005, when 12 horses were killed.
And the show went on.
The steer never rose to his feet again. Hankel had snapped his neck.According to Renaud Leguillette, a veterinarian hired to look after the animals at the Stampede, “only 0.05 percent of rodeo events lead to an animal fatality.”
Imagine if we talked about football deaths that way.
“It’s very competitive, yes,” Dr. Leguillette said. “There are lots of accidents, and we should avoid them when we can, but we cannot eliminate them,” said the vet.
Actually, Dr. Leguillette, there’s a very simple way to eliminate them.
The chuck wagon looks just like the chariot race in Ben Hur. You can check it out here (if you have the stomach for it).
So, why, in this day and age, is anything like this countenanced? The answer, of course, is that it’s still a big money-maker. Stampede organizers say it contributes $350-million annually to the southern Alberta economy.
But the managers are worried – not by the statements put out by humane groups like the Vancouver Humane Society, which has long been calling for the end of steer-wrestling, horse wagon racing, and so on. Nor are they worried by the Calgary Humane Society, which attends the event simply to make sure that the rules are being followed.
Today, fewer and fewer people are interested in attending – just as fewer people go to bullfights in Spain and Mexico.
What the Stampede managers are worried about is the fact that fewer and fewer people are interested in attending – just as fewer people go to bullfights in Spain and Mexico. Your average Canadian is more interested in walking a dog than wrestling a steer.
In the U.K., which banned rodeos in 1934, the League Against Cruel Sports, is lobbying travel agents and tour operators to stop arranging tours to Alberta during the 10-day event. League spokesman Steve Taylor says fellow Brits are “surprised they still have rodeos.”
But that wasn’t enough to stop future U.K. monarchs (and veteran sport hunters) William and Kate from being guests of honor at the Stampede two years ago, even though they had to duck out of responding to public outrage by having a spokesperson say that “Ultimately, their itinerary is a matter for the Albertan Government.”
Still, the growing lack of interest in the whole sordid show makes its organizers increasingly worried for their own financial future.
So, just as companies like McDonalds have been doing in an attempt to allay public concerns about their treatment of animals, the Stampede has set up an “ask-me-anything”-type website, where it offers soothing answers to typical questions. For example:
And the Stampede is trotting out well-tested spin from its PR agency, as when spokesman Doug Fraser told the Toronto Star: “What’s happened is truly unusual and truly upsetting. All we can say to those who oppose us, is we respect their opinion and hope they will respect our right to our opinion.”
Certainly Mr. Fraser, like anyone else, is entitled to his opinion. But he’s not entitled to make his profits off the broken backs and deaths of other animals.