Monday, May 22, 2006

Protesters Greet Visitors at One of Canada's Largest Rodeos - The Annual Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair in Vancouver, British Columbia


Rodeo spurs animal-rights furor

Groups call for end to popular Surrey event


VANCOUVER -- One of Canada's largest rodeos opens its gates this weekend, but while cowboys wrestle bulls in a Surrey arena, animal-welfare groups are asking for the show to be put down for good.

An estimated 100,000 people are expected to flock to the annual Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair, where the world's top cowboys and cowgirls will compete through Monday. Along with the support of bucking enthusiasts, though, comes criticism from groups that say the rodeo should be phased out, citing abuse of show animals and society's dying interest in rodeos.

The rodeo -- which marks its 60th anniversary this year -- is going ahead despite objections from the Vancouver Humane Society and the B.C. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

On May 8, Surrey city council heard from the two groups. In a letter, the SPCA asked the city to consider phasing out the rodeo completely in favour of an expanded fair. Representatives from the humane society asked that some events -- such as tie-down calf-roping and wild-cow milking -- either be changed or discontinued. Council didn't agree to either request.

Still, the groups are undeterred.

"It definitely is a lot calmer than it used to be because they [rodeos] are under a microscope here in Greater Vancouver," said Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society. A wild-horse racing event was phased out a few years ago, to the organization's approval. "In spite of that, animals are hurt all the time," Ms. Probert said.

Yesterday, protesters carrying photos of animals in the rodeo ring demonstrated outside the Surrey fairgrounds; they represented Liberation BC, an animal-protection group that boasts 500 members across the Lower Mainland. "Let's make the 60th year the last," said Ashley Fruno, the group's campaign organizer.

Operators of the Cloverdale Rodeo, which is based in Surrey, counter that it is a world leader in its treatment of animals and that with events so popular they have to turn people away, there are no plans to make any changes, let alone stop operating.

Laura Ballance, spokeswoman for the rodeo, said animal injuries at the rodeo are extremely rare. Last year, with 19,000 "exposures" -- essentially, times when an animal is in the ring -- there were no fatalities and about 40 incidents of injury, she said.

Surrey Councillor Linda Hepner, who is a board member of the Lower Fraser Valley Exhibition Association, which owns the fairgrounds, said the rodeo and fair is a huge financial benefit for the area, generating an average $3-million each year.

But when asked about photographs Ms. Probert displayed at the council meeting two weeks ago, which were of animals during a Cloverdale rodeo event, Ms. Hepner said they "were not pretty pictures."

She said council is now looking at how animals are treated at rodeos in other cities.

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