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We advocate on all animal protection and exploitation issues, including experimentation, factory farming, rodeos, breeders and traveling animal acts.

Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Bucking for the days when rodeos are history


March 22, 2004

The first rodeo competition is thought to have been held in Cheyenne, Wyo., more than a hundred years ago. With all the hoopla surrounding RodeoHouston -- the world's largest -- and news that general attendance set a new record this year, the event seems poised to flourish for at least another hundred.

But don't count on it.

Animal advocates across the board are determined to see that this American tradition, at least as we know it today, becomes American history.

From the controversial People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to mainstream organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States, animal-interest groups are working to end the use of animals in circuses and rodeos. Their investigative work and media savvy have caused others to take notice, and the cause is picking up support.

A referendum to ban the display of wild or exotic animals is on the ballot this year in Denver. If it's successful, the city will be the largest in the United States to pass such a measure.  The zoo, aquarium and rodeo were excluded from the proposed ban, but circuses with animals and other types of menageries would be prohibited from setting up there.

A number of localities have similar laws that prohibit both circuses and rodeos. Others have laws on animal welfare pertaining to the rodeo that go beyond those named by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association/ProRodeo, the rules by which RodeoHouston is required to adhere. Some cities and states now disallow calf roping, considered the most injurious event for the animals.

Others prohibit the use of certain devices such as electric prods, used to shock and agitate animals before they are released from the chute, and flank straps, which, along with the riders' spurs, provoke the bulls and horses to buck aggressively.

While rodeo shows are categorized as family entertainment, they aren't harmless fun for everyone involved. During one weekend in 1998 at the Houston rodeo, a steer was killed after its neck was broken during the steer wrestling competition, and two calves suffered broken legs during roping events. While that was a particularly bad couple of days for rodeo animals, at least a few injuries at every rodeo are almost guaranteed, and deaths are not uncommon.

What's so appealing about a show centered upon grown men conquering terrified 10-week-old calves and their ordinarily docile elders?

Several years back, Chronicle columnist Ken Hoffman suggested that the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo drop some of the more brutal events and change its name to the Houston Livestock Show and Country Music Festival. He recognized then, and it holds true today, that the musical performances, not the animal events, bring in the masses.

In 2004, the animal crusade in Houston is stronger than ever before.

Houston has two organized animal-rights groups based here, numerous animal welfare/protection organizations and a vegan/animal-rights radio show working to raise awareness about the plight of animals.

Activists have demonstrated at some of the rodeo shows this year, waving signs that read "Animal Abuse is Not Entertainment and Buck the Rodeo!" and "The Animals Lose Every Time" at buses entering Reliant Park.

Although general attendance was up this year, paid attendance was lower. Possible explanations for the dip are that the Super Bowl overshadowed the rodeo and concern over mad cow disease, although the increased attendance reaped by the Spring Break Stampede, with most students out of school last week, should have more than compensated for that.

Perhaps what we're witnessing is the birth of a more humane Houston, whose residents are starting to see their city's signature event less as an amusing sport than a condonation of animal cruelty.

Rantschler is a senior journalism major at the University of Houston.


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