In a recent letter to the editor, I challenged pro-rodeo statements made by NZ Rodeo Cowboys Association's spokesman Michael Laws who describes the vile activity of rodeo as "family-friendly entertainment".
After all, John Campbell's Checkpoint programme had exposed sickening footage of calves being abused and former sponsors had left in droves since disturbing videos showing animals being mistreated appeared on social media.
Last Friday, a bull which was being taunted and tormented at the Pukemanu Bullride in Martinborough broke its leg. That is not family-friendly entertainment. That's abuse.
It's certainly something for the children who witnessed the distressing bellows and struggles of the stricken animal to tell their friends at school but the poor bull suffered horribly during an event it was forced to participate in and had to be euthanised. NZRCA president Lyal Cocks described the latest fatality as a freak accident and declared that everyone who participated in rodeo, "loved animals".
Actually, if you loved animals, you wouldn't poke calves with electric prodders as revealed on Checkpoint or mistreat them like I have seen in videos. And, of course, we never see what happens behind the scenes when the callous men who rope calves and goad horses and bulls into bucking using tightly-pulled flank straps are practising. If only animals could speak…
Of the many cruel aspects of rodeo, calf-roping highlights multiple concerns. When Kim Hill mooted to Michael Laws during a robust RNZ interview last Saturday that if a dog was lassoed while running flat out, thrown to the ground and hog-tied, there would be a public outcry, Mr Laws replied that companion animals were different to farm animals and that calves "could handle it". He lacks empathy and clearly doesn't understand that companion animals and farm animals are all classed as sentient beings.
In New Zealand's Animal Welfare Amendment Bill, revised in 2015, this is now recognised. "To say that animals are sentient is to state explicitly that they can experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress," said Dr Virginia Williams, chairwoman of the National Animal Ethics Advisory Committee. "The explicitness is what is new and marks another step along the animal welfare journey." This update was welcomed by the many animal welfare organisations battling for change.
During the interview, Mr Laws was affronted when asked if he was a paid spokesperson and refused to answer the question.
From his aggressive reaction, I concluded that he is simply a paid mouthpiece spouting well-rehearsed propaganda. Among other ridiculous statements, he said that the animals involved enjoyed themselves and that spurs were only used as a 'gee-up'. That is nonsense. Spurs cause blunt trauma and pain. He arrogantly criticised the SPCA, SAFE, Anti Rodeo groups and anyone else whose views disagreed with his, calling them "misinformed".
A much more enlightening RNZ interview aired the previous Saturday when Kim Hill spoke with the indomitable Dr Peggy Larson from Vermont, USA. Dr Larson was invited to New Zealand by Anti Rodeo Action NZ to help dispel the myths promoted that animals used in rodeos aren't hurt and enjoyed themselves.
As a former competitive bucking-bronco rider turned veterinarian, prosecuting lawyer and general saviour of animals, Dr Larson is well qualified to speak. She uses her lifetime of study to conclude that rodeos are consistent with animal abuse and that animals regularly get injured. A sprightly 82, she travels extensively, advocating that they should be banned.
She described how autopsy reports on calves used in calf-roping events revealed that they had sustained serious neck, head and shoulder trauma when roped at full gallop. Hardly surprising, as their head and neck stops but their body, weighing some 80-100kg, keeps going causing damage to their carotid arteries, ligaments and trachea, along with bruised cartilage and haemorrhaging. Microscopic evidence of tissue damage exposed the trauma, invisible on a living calf because of its hair-covered hide. Similar injuries were observed by abattoir meat inspectors. She assessed NZ's Code of Welfare for rodeos as being weak and written to protect rodeos, not the animals. My analysis… Dr Larson, 1 – Mr Laws, Nil.
Full credit must go to the many animal welfare organisations and individuals who are speaking up to stop the callous treatment of calves, horses and bulls.
Fresh hope that rodeos will be consigned to history comes with the new Labour-led government. New Zealanders are waking up to the fact that the disgusting exploitation of animals in rodeos is no longer acceptable. The sooner they're banned, the better.
Jessica Maxwell is chairperson of WATCHDOG!, an SPCA supporter and animal welfare advocate. Views expressed here are the writer's opinion and not the newspaper's. Email: [email protected]