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The opening of the Calgary Stampede Rodeo on July 10, 2021.Leah Hennel/The Globe and Mail

Jessica Scott-Reid is a freelance journalist and animal advocate based in Winnipeg.

One hundred years ago, we did not know that non-human animals are sentient and can feel pain. We know this today and yet here we are in 2022, once again welcoming the Calgary Stampede in July – an event known to cause pain and suffering to animals, all in the name of entertainment.

The stampede has long been promoted as a celebration of history, tradition and culture, with its old-fashioned rodeo marketed to a modern audience with blinders on.

Folks who likely claim to love animals – or at least their own pets – will nonetheless happily pay to watch terrified calves be chased and roped, cheer on confused steers be violently wrestled to the ground, and very likely be an audience to at least one horse dying in the chuckwagon event. Such folks are outside of the 59 per cent of Canadians who oppose the use of animals in rodeos, according to a 2019 study conducted by Research Co.

More than 70 horses have died at the Calgary Stampede since 1986, according to the Vancouver Humane Society. Research has also shown that calves involved in the brutal roping event show visible signs of anxiety and fear, as well as elevated levels of stress hormones following the event.

These findings and concerns have all been shared publicly in recent years by advocacy groups and the media. Supporters of the rodeo can no longer claim ignorance. We know these animals suffer. We know they experience fear, stress and pain. And we know the chance of at least one animal dying at the stampede each year is nearly absolute.

Animal-advocacy organizations have been demanding for years that the stampede’s rodeo events finally come to an end, only to be met with claims from event organizers that animal care is a priority.

According to the Calgary Stampede website, the event meets the standards of the Alberta Animal Care Act. While the act states that “no person shall cause an animal to be in distress,” it also includes an exemption for “distress resulting from an activity carried on in accordance with the regulations or in accordance with reasonable and generally accepted practices.” It is in that little loophole where rodeo lives.

Contrary to popular belief, there is also very little about rodeo events that has anything to do with Canada or cowboys. Chuckwagon racing is a purely spectator sport that was invented by the stampede’s American founder; it has far more to do with drumming up major sponsorship dollars than it does culture. And it’s certainly no celebration of Alberta’s love of horses.

Thankfully, there is more to the Calgary Stampede than cruel animal events.

“The stampede has supported the arts for so many years,” said Jann Arden, an Albertan singer and former parade marshal, in an interview. She goes on to describe the abundance of music, art shows and financial support for children’s music education.

“There are also the rides for the kids,” she said. “People can easily steer clear of the rodeo.”

As a matter of economics, continuing to attend the stampede – but simply avoiding all animal events – can be a powerful act of animal advocacy.

“Times have changed,” Ms. Arden said. “And my days of going to the rodeo are over.”

For anyone else who claims to care about animals, yours should be, too.

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