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Calgary Stampede Steer Put Down
By Wes Gilbertson, EdmontonSun.com
What one Calgary Stampede official described as a routine run turned tragic yesterday -- a steer was euthanized at the afternoon rodeo performance.
The animal was carried out of the arena on a stretcher after being taken to the ground by steer wrestler Joey Bell Jr. of Athens, Texas.
Stampede spokesman Doug Fraser said the animal sustained a "serious spinal injury" and was euthanized, a rare occurrence during a steer-wrestling competition.
"It's only anecdotal, but the fact of the matter is I've been watching rodeo for 30 years and I've never seen this," Fraser said. "It's extremely rare."
It's the third time an animal has been euthanized during the latest installment of the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth, but the first incident in the rodeo arena. The others were chuckwagon horses.
In the steer-wrestling competition, the cowboys chase animals out of the chutes on horseback, then hit the dirt and use both arms -- grabbing a horn with their right hand and sliding their left arm underneath the steer's jaw -- to roll their assignment onto its side.
Bell, a bulldogging veteran who boasts more than $650,000 US in career earnings, caught up to his steer in a hurry yesterday, but struggled to wrestle the animal to the ground.
He eventually clocked a time of 8.9 seconds, finishing out of the money.
When the six-foot-four, 220-pound cowboy stood up, the steer didn't spring back to its feet. After trying to help the animal up, Bell laid the steer back on its side.
Officials hustled into the infield and, after blocking the view of spectators with a black tarp, carried the steer away on a stretcher. Bell was among those who helped carry the animal out of the infield.
Before the steer was euthanized, the veteran cowboy said the animal likely suffered a pinched nerve.
"It could've been my knee or my back just as well as it could've been his," Bell said. "It's just one of those unfortunate things that happens. You'd like to say it never happens, but when you've got animals involved, it's just like people. It happens in football when a person runs into another person.
"They're bigger, stronger, faster than we are, and it's just one of them unfortunate things that does happen."
Fraser said the animal was treated for what was suspected to be a "soft-tissue swelling injury" but was eventually euthanized after further examination showed the severity of the injury.
Calgary's Lee Graves, a former world champion steer wrestler who is also competing at the Stampede, said he was "shocked" the animal had died.
"I've had two knee surgeries and I get hurt more than the steers do," he said.
An official with the Alberta SPCA, which oversees the barns, refused comment on the grounds last night.
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