Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability

NewStream Farm Animal Care, Volume 3, Edition 6

Stampede through different lenses

Posted: July 16, 2015

Though a lightning rod for activists, Calgary Stampede has shown leadership and progress in animal care

One of the more interesting public relations case studies in Western Canada in recent years is the Calgary Stampede and how it has managed the ever-rising scrutiny and pressure around animal welfare.

To its credit, one thing the Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth has not done is sit on the sidelines. It has taken action, including bringing in leading experts such as world renowned Dr. Temple Grandin and Alberta-based Dr. Ed Pajor of the University of Calgary, and is rightly considered by many knowledgeable people on all sides of the debate as leader in driving innovation and progress for animal care at western events.

Today the Calgary Stampede has an independent Animal Care Advisory Panel that guides decisions for animal policies and procedures, harnessing expertise in livestock care, health and handling. It has also adopted a ground-breaking Fitness to Compete program, considered one of the most comprehensive animal care programs in North America. During the 10-day Stampede a full-time team of veterinarians is on hand and each animal is checked by a veterinarian daily.

Reaching out and doing the right thing

Calgary Stampede has resisted taking an adversarial tone with activists and instead has made great strides toward broader engagement, constructive discussion and transparency, which includes an open, ongoing dialogue with key animal rights groups such as the Calgary Humane Society and Alberta SPCA.

The PR 101 saying goes that when a plane crashes, it makes big headlines. The thousands that land safely everyday are taken for granted.

Each year brings its own slate of advances and setbacks. But it's worth noting that during the annual Calgary Stampede, more than 7,500 animals take part in the various exhibitions, educational programs and competitions.

The many animal care initiatives adopted, which also include animal safety audits and updated best practices, are firsts in the world of rodeo and western events, setting an example for others to follow.

Striving for continual improvement

The 2015 event has been a tough one, in particular with death of a four horses during the chuckwagon racing event, which has prompted a new safety review.

All of leadership Calgary Stampede leadership group have delivered a consistent message: Continual improvement has been, and will continue to be, the mantra of the Calgary Stampede and its animal care efforts.

A core part of this is a commitment to ongoing research. Relationships such as the Calgary Stampede partnership with the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM) have positioned the city, province and country as the international leader in research and knowledge related to animal welfare in western events.

To name just one example among many, UCVM's Dr. Ed Pajor and Dr. Renaud Leguilette and their team just completed their fifth year of leading ground breaking research on the behavior of bulls, barebacks and saddle broncs at the Stampede.

Managing in a pressure cooker

Activists, western events enthusiasts, the local community and the public at large - all contain a broad spectrum of viewpoints on the event and how it supports animal care. But many would agree the efforts of recent years and plans for continued progress are worth a tip of the cap.

Calgary Stampede is a unique player in the world of animal care. It sits at the intersection of centuries of western heritage and a modern, largely urban society with rising expectations.

It has become a highly visible focal point of debate on the animal care issue. Managing a pressure cooker of expectations has not been easy. But it has done so while introducing clear initiatives that are making a difference now and into the future.

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