Bronc busting: Allegations of cruelty to animals at this year's Grand National Rodeo

Tail twisting, poking, and possible prodding by a Hot Shot PowerMite were afoot at this month's Grand National Rodeo.

When the Grand National Rodeo was in town Oct. 14-15 and 21-22, we wrote about the presence of animal rights advocates lofting signs in the parking lot of Cow Palace outside the vernerable event. But it turns out the activists got to catch the show too -- the Guardian has been sent videos from a local animal advocate that suggest that animals were in fact being mistreated at the event. The video shows a man prodding a bronco that's waiting to be ridden with a long, angular object. Broncs are also shown having their tail twisted and at one point, being touched with a black object by a cowboy that Andrew Zollman of animal rights group LGBT Compassion says the video is "clearly showing two instances of electric shocks administered to animals" -- and that's illegal.

But when contacted for comment Lindsay Branquinho, press liasion for the Grand National stuck by what she had told this reporter on the sidelines of the very event in the video.

"For these animals their quality of life far exceeds that of most. They are fed the highest quality feeds, given frequent regular medical attention (i.e., check-ups, vaccinations, etc). The amount of time, money, and love that is wrapped up in these animals is huge and the people that own them do all that they can to protect them. These animals are their livelihood, and they would not jeopardize that." She denied that the black object seen in the video was an electric prod, and said she'd get back to us about what it really was.

But Zollman wasn't surprised by the contents of the video at all. He says that abuse from the kinds of offenses he sees in it -- in addition to "painful caustic ointments" and stabbing, all which he says are violations of California's penal code section 597(b) which bars tormenting, needless suffering, and unnecessary cruelty towards animals with the exception of slaughter for food -- is endemic to all rodeos. He leads a campaign against the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association as well. A history of the Grand National Rodeo's past offenses can be found here

The official response from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association was as follows (yawn): 

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) is committed to the proper care and handling of all animals that participate in our sanctioned rodeos.  There are 60 rules governing the treatment of the livestock are enforced by on-site rodeo officials.  A veterinarian is in attendance at all rodeo competition.  In addition to the PRCA rules, we are aware that the Grand National has additional standards for livestock care. 

The PRCA and the management of the Grand National were contacted regarding videotapes taken by those who wish to ban many uses of animals, including rodeo.  The videotapes have been reviewed by officials at the Grand National, the PRCA  as well as experts on the care of livestock and upon initial review the overall opinion is that the livestock were properly handled in accordance with standard livestock practices and PRCA rules.  There were, however,  a few instances where the care and handling of the livestock was not up to Grand National standards.  In one case, a livestock handler’s actions did not meet Grand Nationals standards for livestock care and was dismissed from working the remainder of the show.  

 The PRCA will continue to work with local officials, rodeo judges, on-site rodeo veterinarians, rodeo livestock owners and our members to insure that the livestock at PRCA sanctioned events is afforded proper care and handling. 

Calls for comment from the SFPD Mounted Unit (who ride at the Grand National and were also forwarded Zollman's emails) and the Peninsula Humane Society, the organization who handles animal cruelty law enforcement for San Mateo County Animal Control, have so far gone unanswered. We'll update when they get back to us. 

But is tail twisting inexcusable abuse? Akin to a horseback rider's spurs? This reporter attended the rodeo and was standing quite close to the bronco pit as the above video was being taken -- the tail twisting seemed a little harmful, but it's hard to say with animals this large how much permanent damage that could cause to a 1,700 pound bull. Of course, some would say that any abuse to animals, regardless of severity, counts as cruelty. And the cattle roping -- in which calves are lassoed around the neck as they run at top speed through the ring and thrown to the ground -- definitely gave me pause. How much discomfort should animals have to endure to lead cushy lives (as doubtless the broncs' are, bred as they are for generations to be in top form for the events). 

Thoughts from the cowpokes?