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Opinion: Time to stop inhumane and abusive rodeo events

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors met last month to consider banning rodeo events that are inhumane and overtly abusive to animals.  Three key events were considered for the ban but, despite valid arguments from experts, the board allowed two of them to continue.
As a veterinarian practicing in California for 40 years, I have training and experience in animal anatomy, physiology and behavior. I have subscribed to American Veterinary Medical Association principles that animals should be cared for in ways that minimize fear, pain, stress and suffering.
I think most people agree with these principles. If I were to violate them—by intentionally causing pain or making an animal fearful—I’d probably lose my license to practice. And justifiably so, especially if I did it as entertainment (though I must question how hurting an animal or making it run in fear for its life can be entertaining).
But that’s exactly what happens during events at locally held rodeos, events that have been officially sanctioned by our elected officials. Like Mutton Busting, Wild Cow Milking and Goat Tying.
In Mutton Busting, children (usually ages 4-7) attempt to ride sheep in the same way that adult contestants ride bucking broncos. The term “busting” is used even though sheep are neither wild nor animals usually ridden in the first place.
And that’s where the abuse factor comes in: These are not animals with bodies shaped for being ridden. So they are more likely to be injured and distressed by having a child riding them. Fortunately, the county board decided this event was sufficiently abusive that it should be banned.  Regrettably, not so for the other abusive events.
In a Wild Cow Milking contest, the animal suffers stress and fear after being chased around a noisy arena, harassed by two “cowboys” trying to rope her, drag her, then grab her just to get a few drops of milk.
In Goat Tying events, the young animals are held around the neck by a staked rope, then charged at by a young cowboy or cowgirl, lifted up and roughly thrown to the ground, their legs then tied together with a cord and then left to lay in the dirt unable to move. Again the animal suffers—fear for sure, pain probably, because if I threw a dog on its side like that I know I’d likely be having to take an X-ray to make sure I didn’t cause a lung to collapse.
Proponents of continuing these events say they are part of a tradition and a way for children to learn about the heritage of ranching in America.  What backers fail to admit is that none of these events are common ranch practices.  What they fail to realize is that children who participate in these events are being taught that disregard for animal suffering, physical and psychological, is to be cheered and promoted.
Many traditions in this country deserve our whole-hearted support.  And through the years, we’ve deemed many traditions no longer acceptable.  They’re part of our heritage but we’ve moved on to a more civilized society.
We used to allow child labor; it made perfect sense back then.  We used to prohibit women from voting, but it’s not acceptable now.  As recently as my graduation from vet school, we didn’t think animals experienced much pain after surgery and we didn’t send home pain medications.  I’m proud of my profession’s heritage but some things are best relegated to history.
It’s time to advocate for proper treatment of all animals.  There are many rodeo events that can continue to honor the heritage of the American West, and can show the newer generations about ranching and farming.  To ban these three events poses no threat to the rodeos, to the farmers and ranchers, or to the public.
To acknowledge animal suffering and to work to promote humane animal handling should be a universal goal.
René Gandolfi is a veterinarian in Castro Valley.
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