Calgary Humane tries to avoid getting Stampeded
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1999:
CALGARY––Does the Calgary Humane
Society have what it takes to take on animal abuse in
the Canadian film industry?
The American Humane Association is betting
it does––in part from the experience Calgary
Humane has in co-existing with the Calgary
Stampede, the world’s most famous rodeo.
Data gathered by Vermont veterinarian and
former rodeo performer turned anti-rodeo activist
Peggy Larson shows that at least 12 horses have been
killed during Stampede chuckwagon races just since
1990, with horse fatalities occurring in seven of the
ten years. On July 9 this year, chuckwagon racer Bill
McEwen, 59, suffered fatal injuries in a crash that
also killed a horse and injured another racer, Ron
David. McEwen’s son Larry, driving another chuckwagon,
got a 20-second penalty for allegedly causing
the crash––and the show went on.
Other known Stampede fatalities since 1990
included a bucking horse and a steer in 1990, and a
bull in 1997.
But just as the AHA cannot block production
of films just because it doesn’t like their content
or message, Calgary Humane cannot stop the
Stampede. An exemption in the 1988 Alberta Animal
Protection Act, similar to exemptions in effect in 29
U.S. states, obliges Calgary Humane and other agencies
to demonstrate that an act is not only cruel, but
also not “generally accepted” by the industry responsible
for it, in order to bring a prosecution.
Confirms Calgary Humane executive director
Cathy Thomas, “We have not laid charges to date
against anyone involved in the Calgary Stampede.
We have looked for opportunities, but haven’t had
credible witnesses willing to come forward to identify
really obvious behind-the-scenes cruelty. As well,
we find that the practices at the Calgary Stampede are
so long established that many people just don’t see
the cruelty despite years of our raising awareness.”
Even if Calgary Humane could bring the
Stampede into court, finding an impartial jury would
be difficult: the Stampede has 1,800 local volunteers,
1,284 part-time paid staff, 211 full-time staff, and
1,100 nonprofit shareholders.
Therefore, like the AHA on a film set,
Calgary Humane settles for an advisory role.
“We inspect the barns,” Thomas explains,
“and attend all of the events. We meet on an annual
basis with the Stampede Board to review concerns,
complaints, rules, and practices. We believe we
have had success with this approach, resulting in
fewer injuries and deaths. For example,” says
Thomas, “we were successful in getting the
Stampede to discontinue the petting zoo and pony
rides, and they no longer allow live animals to be
given away on the midway.”
Calgary Humane has not, as yet, laid
charges against anyone in the film industry, either.
But ANIMAL PEOPLE has record of only two animal
fatalities in nearby film productions: a horse near
Campbell River, British Columbia, and a camel who
died right in Calgary of an aneurism while being
transported to the set. Both deaths occurred in 1997,
during the making of Eaters of the Dead, from
Disney Studios, starring Antonio Banderas.
Ironically, the deaths may have come to
light only because Disney Studios and Banderas were
involved. Most animal deaths in film making don’t
make news, but Vancouver Province reporter Peter
Clough apparently investigated these because their
occurrence in a Disney production––like the 1956
White Wilderness incident in which Canadian voles
were tossed repeatedly over an Alberta waterfall––
was shockingly at odds with the Disney reputation.
Banderas, meanwhile, is husband of
actress Melanie Griffith, whose mother Tippi Hedron
runs the Shambala sanctuary for exotic cats and two
elephants in the foothills east of Hollywood. Hedron
was star of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1962 classic T h e
B i r d s, in which birds avenge themselves en masse
against humans for abuse of their species.
Calgary Humane cooperative arrangements
with other institutions have at least one outstanding
record of success: working with Calgary Animal
Services to prevent pet overpopulation, the two agencies
together killed just 5.76 dogs and cats per 1,000
human residents of Calgary in 1998, easily the lowest
ratio in Canada.