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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 22 June 2006 Issue

PAWPRINTS, FOOTPRINTS & ANIMAL CHATTER
By Judith Marie Gansen

Article 43: Animals + People + Competition = ?

In the old days, animals who lived with people might be known for being the best sheepdog, or the smartest hunting dog or the fastest horse or the cow that had the most calves.  The animals with the most desirable traits would benefit their owners in some way.  By selling off the offspring of these animals, people could get a little richer because animals were an integral part of their existence and also their income.  Perhaps comparisons led to competition to prove who had the fastest horse and therefore, the most valuable one.  A little friendly competition then became a regional event and it grew from there.

Do We Need Competition?

Competition can bring out the best in us--after all, the Olympics give us something to strive for and we are all proud when our country wins medals.  However, some people feel if there was less competition in schools that we might raise smarter students who would then be more focused on "thinking outside the box" instead of worrying so much how they may measure up to other students.  I think the key for responsible people  is to pick the right time for competition and to be very fair about it when we do.  Striving to be the best can make us all try harder but I do think too much competition can be harmful to children and that our world should admire and praise anyone who does their best, whether they win or not. 

Sadly, competition can also bring out the worst in adults. Remember an ice skating competition some years ago where one competitor was deliberately harmed so another would win?  Or a cheerleader's mom who committed a terrible crime so her daughter would win?  Ever been to a little league game where parents make you sick by their unsportsmanlike behavior? 

Competition can cause stress, injuries, death (think racecar driving), etc. and this is with humans who have safety gear and have all made the conscious decision that the risk is worth it. What is the prize in all these competitions and why do people want to win so badly?  It usually all boils down to two things--money or ego.  Money--for yourself (or sometimes to go to a charity) or winning to stroke our egos and give us fame.  We all like to win money and we all like recognition for hard work--it all usually works out fine as long as everyone plays fair and square.  The problem is not all people want to play fair.  Winning has become everything in our world--heaven forbid we do our best and still lose!  Wouldn't it be nice if there were more movies that ended with the hero losing but who tried his or her best and so they were real winners too?  What message are we sending to young people when we think that winning is all that matters?

Should We Add Animals To Competition?

So competition with people as the only participants can sometimes be a recipe for disaster.  Now think about adding animals to competition.

People say to animal advocates, "what's wrong with old-fashioned competition involving animals?"  In the first place, not one animal asked to be involved in the competition--not one.  While nature makes animals compete in other ways naturally (like for food), God or nature (depending on your beliefs) didn't put them into any competition for money or ego--we humans did.  I understand people who say that most horses love to run and most huskies love to run.  So why not tap into their natural ability--aren't they enjoying it too?  I think some of them may enjoy this on their own but some are picking up on the enjoyment of the person guiding them too.  For instance, my dogs get really happy when I come home excited because I found a super bargain while shopping.  Dogs often bond closely with us and pick up on our moods very quickly yet I doubt if they trotted by a sale at Bed, Bath and Beyond they would grab my charge card and run in with it!

The Problem With Involving Animals

There are generally three problems with involving animals in competition.  First there is the natural potential for danger.  Can the animal be harmed in any way from the competition?  Horses bunched up running in a race can stumble and fall and get killed or injured.  There are extreme elements during the Iditarod for the dogs to deal with.  Second is the potential for outright cruelty. Rodeos use bucking straps and other methods of making the animals buck as well as slamming animals to the ground as in calf-roping and sometimes the calves get hurt, etc.  Greyhound racing dogs were often killed when they were "used up" although now rescues are trying to change that and find homes for them when they are retired but life in dogracing is no picnic for a social creature like a dog.  Then there is bullfighting with the reputation of the matador in competition with other matadors.  The bull is slowly weakened by wounding until the final kill takes place.

The third problem is adding in humans who will cheat.  The same type of people who will cheat to get ahead in a competition with people, now have the use of a creature who can't "spill the beans on them."  While these events have people who monitor them to prevent cheating, competitors keep coming up with new and ugly ideas and the animals get caught in the crossfire--giving painkillers to racehorses who have injuries so they can still run harms the horse for example.  Of course all racehorse owners don't do this but if just one does--isn't that one too many?

If athletes decide to take drugs to win in competition, they harm themselves as well as the sport and the kids who look up to him or her but at least an animal didn't get harmed.  While all people won't cheat of course, the ones who will in animal competition usually won't care if they put the animals at risk.  For the animals, it can be a recipe for disaster.

What's the Ultimate Solution?

Should we eliminate animals entirely from all competition?  I doubt most animal advocates would be upset about the latest hobby of dancing with your dog.  Active dogs love and need "tasks" to do and exercise is good for both.  However, if the winning trophy someday comes with $10,000, the potential is there even in that innocent activity for future problems once again because of the nature of some PEOPLE.

My thought would be to expand on the kinds of competition that people ONLY can do and increase the money awards and trophies they can win.  Rodeo people could keep the cowboy outfits but get prizes for skills that don't involve animals.  If there was a cowboy roping contest not involving animals where the win was a million dollars, the bucking strap might become ancient history.  Or make the big prize be for how long they can stay on a mechanical horse.  I don't have a magic answer here, but if people put on their thinking caps and come up with more competitions for people that would allow them to keep much of the gear from their "old competition" and still bring the winners fame and money, I think people would get involved.  Look at what Cirque Du Soleil has done--they have a great circus with no animals and the last I knew they were booked in Las Vegas!!

The bottom line is animals do not belong in most types of competition.  As their caretakers, we need to think about their welfare first.  Henry David Thoreau said:  "All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant."*   Animals do not exist to feed either our wallets or our egos, they exist for their own purposes.  Let's make getting animals out of most kinds of competition a "miracle to contemplate"!

*Walden, 1854

Judy
Staff:  Animals in Print 
(free online animal publication)
http://www.all-creatures.org/aip/

Pawprints, Footprints & Animal Chatter (my editorials on mostly animal issues--if you email me please indicate in the subject column it is about one of my articles so it doesn't get deleted as spam--thanks)
shortietek@aol.com

"We exist to educate and through compassion and knowledge improve the lives of all beings."

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