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James Wanless

this is where I write

The CBC supports animal cruelty, Calgary style

calf roping
There are many campaigns with which I do not get involved, even though I generally support them; causes with significant enough grey area that I am not riled to action. As a native Calgarian (and Vancouverite for the past 22 years), I’ve been bothered by many of the rodeo activities that are branded entertainment by the Calgary Stampede. Chief among them are calf roping and bull/bronc riding. Barbaric is too tame a word. While the end goal is man’s domination of the animal, as opposed to its death, I don’t view these particular events with much less disdain than I do the horrific Spanish ‘blood fiestas’ involving chickens, bulls and goats.

As such, when I recently saw a tweet by the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS), to send the CBC an email demanding they stop broadcasting the Calgary Stampede rodeo, I decided to send one. As opposed to repeating the letter here, you can edit and send your own email on the VHS site. You can also get contact information for Bell Canada to demand they stop sponsoring the rodeo.

I was somewhat surprised to receive a response from Jeffrey Orridge, Executive Director of CBC Sports, but was then disheartened to read what appears to have been crafted directly from talking points supplied by the Calgary Stampede. It’s basically paraphrasing information published on the ‘animal care’ section of the Stampede’s web site. Below I have interspersed paragraphs from Mr. Orridge’s response with paragraphs from my email back to him so that it flows like more of a dialogue. I CC’d this to the VHS and to Vern Kimball, Calgary Stampede CEO, reachable at vkimball@calgarystampede.com. Oddly enough, no response from Mr. Kimball so far.

The email dialogue

Organizations like the Calgary Stampede and those who support what they do begin from the assumption that it is our right to do as we wish with animals.

My position is that the CBC’s views are exactly what is wrong with how we generally view and ‘use’ animals in our society. Organizations like the Calgary Stampede and those who support what they do begin from the assumption that it is our right to do as we wish with animals. Many people who disagree with rodeo and other forms of animal exploitation ‘entertainment’ take exactly the opposite stance.

CBC: As the Calgary Stampede organizers are committed to providing the highest standard of animal care and safeguarding animal welfare, the organization works regularly with the Calgary Humane Society and the Alberta SPCA to ensure that stress on the animals is absolutely minimized. Both groups are on-site monitoring events and all competing animals are under constant veterinary care and attention throughout the Stampede.

Me: While the animals are certainly under some form of care, I cannot agree that the Stampede is committed to providing the highest standard of animal care, or they wouldn’t do this in the first place. Care says to me and many others that we’re protecting them from harm in the first place, not treating it when it occurs. The fact that they are working to ‘absolutely minimize’ stress on the animals suggests that it is wrong in the first place. Why do something to an animal when; a) they are incapable of giving their consent or choosing to do it, and; b) it requires stress precautions be taken in the first place?

If you could somehow ask a calf being roped, where its neck is yanked so hard its entire body flips out from below and lands with a resounding thud on its side, or a horse or bull being cinched around the loins so hard that it is trying to kick off the strap, whether some veterinary care after the fact makes the experience worth it, I have a pretty good idea what the answer would be. Or, put another way, if the Stampede instead decided to expose children to this depravity, but deemed it acceptable because they had a doctor on hand, no one would support it and you certainly wouldn’t broadcast it. However, because ‘entertainment’ animals are viewed as commodities and products, somehow it’s OK. We likely wouldn’t even do it with family pets. Of course, if they are not being used for these purposes, cattle are being raised for meat and dairy, so who’s to say which fate is worse?

CBC: It is also true that the animals involved in the Stampede are extremely valued by their owners – indeed the animals represent a considerable financial and emotional investment. Ensuring the safety of the animals and humans taking part in the Stampede are of paramount importance.

Me: I agree with the point you make about the value these animals have for their owners. It’s a strange type of emotional connection that allows a person to put their ‘loved ones’ through something like a rodeo event, but there is no question at all it’s mostly about money invested. Someone spends this kind of cash purchasing, feeding and raising an animal, they better be able to make a profit, eh? I seem to recall that the slave trade was based upon largely the same principles.

CBC: As you know, CBC has a long tradition of bringing this event to Canadians, one we feel has important value to a significant number of our viewers. Of course, we recognize that not everyone shares this perspective. It is clear that you fall into the latter group.

Me: If this programming has so much value for your viewers, why is it often being shown at midnight, when very few people are even watching? Is it the viewers that are important or some obligation you have to the Stampede that keeps it in your schedule? You say it has ‘important value to a significant number of your viewers’ but don’t offer any supporting evidence. Is it proof that we can hurt, exploit and use animals for our own purposes that has value? How about that our position at the top of the food and intelligence chain means we can do as we wish, with no concern for the terror and fear our actions cause in non-human animals.

CBC: I should like to point out that CBC News does broadcast news stories on the rodeo, including information about any animal injuries and care violations should they occur. We have also in the past aired features bringing attention to the differing opinions on rodeos as a representation of Canadian culture today.

Me: In some ways broadcasting this event demonstrates just how depraved people can be when it comes to their views on animals, though animal abuses in our society are far worse than this in many ways. Perhaps if you not only did news stories when injuries and violations occur but accompanied your Stampede broadcasts with information that balances the equation, it would be a start. And ‘injuries and violations’ are a laugh because animal protection laws have not been updated in ages and offer almost no protection. Further, those who violate them get slaps on the wrist and fines. Perhaps it’s not surprising that the CBC broadcasts this cruelty when society as a whole seems to care so little for animals.

If you feel similarly

While the odd voice doesn’t change this kind of policy, many voices do. In his opening paragraph to me, which I didn’t post above, Mr. Orridge states, “We know there is not a universal agreement about rodeos, and the Calgary Stampede in particular, among CBC’s viewing audience, but there are a number of actions both the Stampede organizers and the CBC take to address the strong differing points of view on this subject.” To open form letter responses this way is clear indication that opposition is strong to the broadcast of these events.

Further, that the Calgary Stampede publishes such a large section on animal care at their rodeos is further proof that a lot of people are speaking out about their distaste for the event. Add your voice to the mix. Direct communication is often the best approach and contact information for both Mr. Orridge and Mr. Kimball can be found below.

Jeffrey Orridge
Executive Director
CBC Network Sports
T. 416 205 5036
F. 416 205 6520
jeffrey.orridge@cbc.ca

Vern Kimball
Chief Executive Officer
Calgary Stampede
T. 1 800 661 1260 (North America toll free)
F. 403 265 7197
vkimball@calgarystampede.com

Sled dog cull outrage reveals our complicated relationship with animals

Sled Dogs #8 - 1
Reaction to the Whistler sled dog massacre has been swift and strong. In case you are not up on your BC or Canadian news, it recently came to light that in April 2010, 100 sled dogs were killed during an economic lull after the Vancouver-Whistler 2010 Winter Olympics. As opposed to compassionate euthanasia, the cull was carried out via slit throats, bullets to the head and a mass grave. It appears to have been a brutal, bloody mess.

Everything from the communication between the sled dog company and the killer, right down to the gruesome bungling, can be found via a quick Google search.  Robert Fawcett, an experienced sledder and the killer of the dogs, has apparently been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder since the incident, and in one of many articles on the web he discusses his handling of the situation:

“Some I missed, had to chase around with blood everywhere, some I had to slit their throats because it was the only way to keep them calm in my arms,” stated Fawcett.

The post-traumatic stress claim made with the WCB by Fawcett has led to a cruelty investigation by the BC SPCA.  Five years ago Fawcett was also cited by the SPCA for keeping dogs in sub-standard conditions:

In 2006 the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals issued orders noting dogs tethered too long on chains, not getting enough exercise. Other orders were issued after dogs were discovered emaciated, lacking dental care and concerns about the animals not being housed properly or receiving proper socialization as required by a pack animal.

According to police, death threats are being made to employees of the company, many of whom had nothing to do with the cull.  I deplore the threats as much as the original act itself, but I understand the anger that drives people to feel this way.  It’s hard to say what kinds of lives these particular dogs had, but human beings have a special bond with canines and any act that runs counter to that bond disturbs us.  We can’t imagine what kind of a person can do what Fawcett did, and we have a harder time when we begin to actually picture the act in our heads.  Unfortunately, sled dogs have historically been culled in Canada, but that story isn’t associated with a feel-good event like the Olympics and, perhaps, the RCMP members responsible never made a stress-related financial claim.

When there is an emotional investment with animals, as we have with pets and companions, then it rightly bothers us to see them treated inhumanely and to be disposed of when there is no longer a use for them.  We often anthropomorphize them, assigning them human motives and aspirations, even putting ourselves in their places and trying to imagine what their lives were like and the fear and pain they must have felt.

Animals as commodities

Let us not forget, too, that these dogs were still being used for human entertainment and profit.  I would suggest, though, that regardless of how these dogs lived and died, it was likely a better existence on any measure than the typical food animal has.  We don’t tend to afford animals ‘produced’ for food and fur the same human traits that we do companion animals.

Food

I was thinking of writing this post when I read a piece by Lesley Fox of the Fur-Bearer’s Defenders, which stole some of my thunder, but upon which I would like to expand.  In the article Fox makes the point that our society treats animals as commodities and these kinds of ends are common.  According to Fox, the number of animals killed for human use in Canada is pretty staggering:

Each year in Canada, over three million cows, 30 million pigs, and 600 million chickens are slaughtered for food. Approximately 2.5 million fur-bearing animals are killed for their coats and over 300,000 baby seals are killed on the East Coast for their meat, oil, and fur.

The numbers above, though, don’t tell much of the story.  Only a very tiny fraction of farmed animals are raised with care and slaughtered humanely, if that is even possible.  Almost all animals that make their way to our dinner tables are raised in intensive operations, and their lives are often an unnatural, short and miserable existence, as documented below.  Whether vegan or omnivore, it’s hard to believe anyone wants their food produced this way.  While the context is different, fish production is becoming more like other intensive animal husbandry industries, too.

I don’t really blame people for their apathy toward animals raised for dairy, meat and fur.  From childhood, we are culturally inculcated to feel ambivalent about most animals, with the exception of those we take as companions.  I am pretty sure we all hope somewhere deep down, that they are treated humanely – whatever that means – and killed quickly.  For the most part though, by the time an animal makes it to our plate, the cut of meat is simply a product, nothing more.  Particularly when the meat industry does all they can to ensure that scenes like those above are not viewed by most people, it is fairly easy to divorce oneself from the reality of how their meat got to their plate.  In all but a few exceptions, though, if you eat meat this is how it is produced.

While I want to focus on the animals themselves, it is hard to discuss intensive animal agriculture without at least mentioning the environmental and economic inefficiencies of the industry.  Even if you don’t feel strongly about the animals themselves, aside from corporate profit there really isn’t a strong argument to be made in favour of this method of food production.  The pollution generated is beyond dispute and the economics of the business also warrant careful scrutiny.  While you can easily find arguments in favour of, and refuting, a vegetarian diet, most people would have a hard time arguing for the benefits of consuming antibiotics, hormones and other feed additives in their meat, milk, cheese and fish.

Fur

MinkFarmWisconsin2007We tend to have a stronger reaction to the use of animals for their fur, and so the magnitude of the problem is smaller, taken on its own. However, as part of the broader issue of our relationship with animals, it is still troubling and demand for animal pelts has been increasing since the turn of the century.  In particular, Canada is one of the world’s largest producers of Fox pelts.   Just as with food animals, fur animals are often raised in confinement (mink barns at right) and, ultimately, once their pelts are removed so we can wear them, the rest of the animal is either disposed of, or used for various purposes.  It is difficult to believe, no matter what the purpose we have for the animals raised, that a life lived in confinement could be considered humane or natural by any definition of the word.

Whether raised for their skins or to feed us, or in fact for any other purpose we have for them, the reality is that animal husbandry is now largely unnatural and inhumane, as a result of a purely profit-driven system.  When suggesting that we raise animals for our uses, many will say that it is our heritage and our nature to consume meat or to wear animal pelts.  I don’t deny that this is the case, but as with many things that change over time, doing so is no longer what it once was and society often changes practice to align with changing standards or scientific advancement.

This post is not really about that, but I would simply offer the following for your consideration.  We no longer raise and kill animals as farmers, fisherman and hunters once did.  We don’t eat wild and natural meat as a small part of a healthy diet. We eat a diet of processed and unhealthy food, produced for maximum profit with problematic ethical and environmental outcomes.  We are largely dissociated with the world of animal husbandry and see meat and fur as industrial products.  Given what animals raised for our use must now endure, should we be complicit in the process or should we question our contribution to it?  The industry is like any other – supply and demand and basic economics.

Why the double standard?

What I have really been trying to get to in this post is our double-standard.  For the most part we abhor the thought of any harm coming to our pets and, in general, we hope animals will be treated well whenever possible.  The outpouring of anger and emotion because of the sled dog cull is testament to that.  Yet, we allow industry to do far worse things to animals on a daily basis and on an almost unimaginable scale, to produce food, clothes and other products for our use.

As I have thought about it while writing this, I think it’s likely the same thing that drives both sides of this double standard.  We don’t only make an emotional connection with our companion animals, but we make just as strong an emotional connection with the food we eat.  From Christmas and Thanksgiving dinners, to Sunday family meals, the food we are raised on is wired into our psyche.  We have fond memories of what our mothers and grandmothers cooked for us, and in the western world, those memories include meat.

BC Agriculture in the Classroom partners

Dairy promoting fruits and vegetables to kids? OK ...

The industry (via beef and dairy lobby groups, among others) has been very successful at tapping into the cultural warm and fuzzies and have used that, along with many other marketing tactics, to ensure we feel protective of their products by reinforcing the association of meat and dairy with our history, our culture and our emotions.  In fact, the marketing has become pervasive enough that industry often tries to attach itself to educational initiatives, even if its products have nothing to do with the initiative at hand.  BC Agriculture in the Classroom (ActNowBC) is aimed at increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables kids consume, so I’m not sure why two dairy lobby groups are partners.

You could say that we have been taught from childhood to consider animal agriculture products as essential to our lives with images reflective of bygone days, based on emotional, historical and cultural grounds.  Ensuring we feel strongly about industry’s products is only part of the issue.  We have had the realities of these industries hidden from us for so long, that we’ve also effectively become ignorant or unaware of them.

On the one hand, we form strong emotional bonds with the animals we care about, just as we form strong emotional bonds to the food we’ve been raised on.  I suggest we’d form similar bonds with farmed animals and not just the products that come from them, if we were exposed to the animals themselves, to any great degree.  Whether you believe keeping us emotionally connected to meat and dairy products, and divorced from the animals and the ethically messy business of raising and slaughtering them is industry duplicity or just happenstance, it’s important in understanding why we view some types of animals so differently from others.

The question I think we need to ask ourselves is whether our emotional attachment to culture and history is enough to allow us a double-standard that really defies all logic.  Why is it socially and legally acceptable for industry to cause millions of animals to suffer for our uses, while the plight of a hundred dogs elicits death threats to employees of a small business?  Can we honestly say that sled dogs are any more or less worthy of our concern, than the countless pigs, cattle, chickens, turkeys and others that experience far worse on a daily basis?

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