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Canada B.C. rodeo nixes roping, wrestling and milking events

Stung by criticism from animal-rights activists, a popular suburban Vancouver rodeo has eliminated four marquee events from its future program.

According to the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association, Cloverdale is the first rodeo in Western Canada to dramatically change its program to mollify animal-rights activists.

CPRA president Dale Leschiutta said he's concerned that a cherished Western tradition is under attack. By removing the events, Cloverdale risks losing its designation as a sanctioned professional rodeo, where cowboys on the North American circuit can earn points to quality for the national and North American championships held later in the year in Edmonton and Las Vegas.

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The rodeo association sanctions nearly 60 rodeos in Canada's four western provinces.

The four events, which are considered the most cruel, include: calf-roping, team roping, steer wrestling and a cow-milking race.

Mr. Leschiutta said he hopes peace can be reached between rodeo organizers and animal-rights activists, saying his organization is willing to listen and make changes to ensure that animals aren't mistreated.

"The times have changed," Mr. Leschiutta said. "The ability to do and be what we were has to be reviewed."

However, Mr. Leschiutta said he was opposed to "fractioning off or dismantling what we know."

The changes were cheered by animal-rights activists, some of whom tried to storm the Cloverdale Rodeo and Country Fair in Surrey, B.C., last weekend.

"These events are explicit animal cruelty and there is no place for them in a progressive society," said Debra Probert, executive director of the Vancouver Humane Society.

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"They're exploiting the reaction of animals to pain, fear and stress. They harass them. They kick them. They goad them. They [rodeo animals]are domestic animals, they're not wild animals, but they harass them into acting like wild animals."

Ms. Probert described the Cloverdale Rodeo announcement as "exciting" and hopes other rodeos will follow suit.

A spokesman for the Calgary Stampede and Exhibition said it has no plans to remove the roping or steer-wrestling events from its program.

"The Calgary Stampede is passionate about the proper treatment of animals and because it's our Number One priority, we don't anticipate eliminating any events from the Calgary Stampede at this point," Doug Fraser said in a telephone interview from Calgary.

For the cowboys who chase calves and steers for a living, the annual Cloverdale Rodeo and Country fair is the most important roping event west of the Rockies.

For the past six decades, cowboys from across North America have flocked to the suburban Vancouver spring event to earn points and vie for cash prizes by wrestling steers and chasing calves around a muddy stadium.

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But the summer rodeo, which provides a showcase for cowboys - and they are mostly men - to show off their man-against-beast skills, is now seen by many observers as a cruel, stomach-churning spectacle.

Cloverdale Rodeo organizers made the decision to axe four events from next year's program after the rodeo wrapped up this long weekend. Turnout at this year's event was disappointing, spokeswoman Laura Ballance said, marred by rainy weather, a protest, and the death of a calf during the calf-roping event.

The animal hurt its leg during the chase and had to be euthanized. It was the rodeo's second animal death in four years, Ms. Ballance said. "It was absolutely so distressing."

The rodeo's board banned the four events to ensure another animal is not harmed.

The Cloverdale rodeo also attracted the ire of B.C.-born actress and animal-rights activist Pamela Anderson.

In a letter posted on the Vancouver Humane Society's website, Ms. Anderson earlier urged sponsors to boycott the annual fair, describing the distress experienced by rodeo animals.

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"The calf-roping event, for example, is particularly cruel," Ms. Anderson wrote. "A baby animal, frightened and agitated, is confined in a small chute, prior to being released into the arena. Too often his head is slammed into the metal bars. Sometimes he's kicked. Then, just as the chute opens, the animal's tail is painfully twisted. This is all done so the animal will run out and he does so because he is terrified and in pain."

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