Animal welfare organizations, Kingston Councillor oppose bull riding events

While rodeo-style competitive bull riding has been around for centuries in different cultures around the world, animal welfare advocates at the national and local level, as well as one Kingston City Councillor, feel that the current sport is for entertainment only and violates Ontario’s Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act, as well as the Criminal Code of Canada, ahead of Professional Bull Riding (PBR) events taking place in Kingston on June 4 and 5, 2024.

Kingston Police have been “formally alerted” about the possible violations of animal cruelty laws that “are likely to occur” at an upcoming event, according to a national animal law organization.

Animal Justice, an animal rights organization focused on upholding laws around animal welfare in Canada through legal action, announced it had addressed Kingston Police of the potential law violations on Monday, Jun. 3, 2024 – ahead of the two-day event it claims may violate animal cruelty law. The Professional Bull Riders (PBR) Kingston Classic is set to take place at Slush Puppie Place on Tuesday, Jun. 4 and Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2024.

“While the PBR Kingston Classic is billed as an ‘exhilarating’ spectacle where attendees may have the opportunity to witness ‘wrecks’ – where riders are horned or stomped by the ‘rankest’ bulls who are ‘born to buck’ – the bulls have no choice in the matter,” Animal Justice said in a press release, supported by the Kingston Humane Society and Kingston City Councillor Lisa Osanic.

“During these events, flank straps (or ‘bucking straps’) are tightened around bulls prior to their release from the chute, applying pressure, and often significant pain and discomfort, to their sensitive underbellies in order to make the animals buck more violently,” the animal law organization continued.

The press release goes on to say that at previous PBR events in Saskatchewan, “animal welfare officials observed the use of electric prods on bulls who ‘stalled’ either in the chute or while moving to the chute.”

“Additionally, metal spurs attached to riders’ boots may also be used to induce the animals to buck, putting them at risk of back and leg injuries. Under PBR’s rules, a rider can earn extra points by successfully kicking out their leg and ‘spurring’ the bull,” the organization stated.

Kingstonist followed up with Animal Justice about this, asking who the “animal welfare officials” they referred to are, and where the allegations asserted could be verified.

“The details regarding the use of prods in Saskatchewan came in response to a similar letter to authorities regarding a PBR event last month, so Animal Justice is just passing on what it was told by the Chief Animal Protection Officer before the event in question,” said Josh Lynn, Public Relations Manager for Animal Justice.

According to Lynn, the Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan (APSS) told Animal Justice, “Officers from APSS have attended previous events conducted in the province by the PBR… Use of standard electric prods was limited to animals that had stalled either in the chute or when moving to the chute and animals were only contacted on their shoulder or hip area.”  

Animal Justice reiterated that local law enforcement in Kingston have been “informed” of “these and other concerns regarding the treatment of bulls during bull-riding events, citing potential breaches of Ontario’s Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS Act).

“Not only does the PAWS Act prohibit causing an animal to be in distress, but it also prohibits exposing an animal to an ‘undue risk of distress,’” Animal Justice said.

Indeed, the PAWS Act does state under the heading “Distress, Animal Fights and Harm,” that “no person shall cause an animal to be in distress,” that “no owner or custodian of an animal shall permit the animal to be in distress,” and that “no person shall knowingly or recklessly cause an animal to be exposed to an undue risk of distress.”

“Bull riding events do not deserve special treatment under Ontario’s animal cruelty statutes. Should the PBR proceed with these events, employing inhumane and outdated methods such as flank straps, spurs, or electric prods, it is our expectation that organizers will be held to account for any violations of the PAWS Act,” said Alexandra Pester, staff lawyer at Animal Justice, in a statement.

The organization also said that because bull riding events are “for entertainment and serve no valid agricultural purpose,” they have also advised authorities the events “likely violate the Criminal Code which forbids causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal.”

Finally, Animal Justice points to flank straps, metal spurs, and electric prods having been banned in places like Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Baltimore, the state of Ohio, the United Kingdom as a whole, and in Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Port Moody, and North Vancouver, “due to concerns about animal welfare. Kingstonist was not able to independently verify these assertions, however, it appears that this is the case in at least Ohio, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh, and the Vancouver Humane Society has published articles against the use of these items, as well as against PBR and rodeos in general.

The letter that Animal Justice claims to have sent to Kingston Police, which can be viewed here, is signed by the Kingston Humane Society and Councillor Lisa Osanic. The animal law advocacy group stated that Osanic “shares” the groups “concerns.”

“The aggressive nature of bulls during rodeo performances is a direct consequence of the intention to annoy and provoke them with violent kicking of spurs into their sides, along with other methods. We should all be concerned about animal welfare and protecting them from cruelty,” Osanic said in a statement provided to Kingstonist by Animal Justice.

In the statement from Animal Justice, Kingston Humane Society’s Executive Director Gord Hunter said the Humane Society “fully supports the efforts of Animal Justice and Councillor Osanic to hold PBR to account and to hold Slush Puppie Place to a higher standard when booking events.”

“Every animal that we interact with deserves the five freedoms of animal welfare which include freedom from pain, injury, distress and discomfort. As Kingston’s largest animal welfare organization, we cannot and will not separate or compartmentalize animal welfare to only include pets or domestic animals,” Hunter said in the statement.

Kingstonist reached out to PBR for their response to the assertions from Animal Justice. PBR responded, stating that Animal Justice is “spreading lies and misinformation about professional bull riding to push an agenda.”

“PBR bulls, born to buck, get very good care, and live a long, satisfying life, eventually passing of natural causes on a ranch. Contrast that to any bull not fortunate to be in the PBR, who will enter the food supply before he’s three years old,” said Andrew Giangola, Vice President of Strategic Communications for the bull riding organization.

Giangola noted that PBR’s bulls live to be 12 to 15 years old.

“The bulls are the true rock stars of the sport and treated as such. Anyone who loves animals should support PBR,” he said.

As for the equipment used by PBR in relation to the allegations from Animal Justice Canada, Giangola said that electric prods are not used, and that flank straps do not touch the bulls’ genitalia, which he said is a common lie being spread about the sport.

“The flank strap is a soft cotton rope used to encourage a genetically pre-disposed bucking bull to kick,” he stated.

As for boot spurs, Giangola said that the riders’ spurs are dull and “never hurt the bull, whose skin is [seven times] thicker than human skin.”

“The spurs are inspected before every event. Should a rider have sharp spurs, he’d be disqualified,” he said.

In conclusion, Giangola said “it’s important to note that the bulls buck because of genetic breeding.”

“Just as thoroughbred racehorses are carefully bred to run fast, PBR bucking bulls are genetically disposed to jump, kick and spin with power and grace. They are NEVER shocked, coerced, or harmfully prodded to compete. The only training device used to stimulate bucking behaviour is the cotton flank strap, which is tied relatively loosely around the haunches of the bull,” he said.

“PBR is a sport that celebrates its animal athletes, who live a great, long life. We always put the animal athletes first.”

Kingston Police confirmed that they received the letter from PBR, the Kingston Humane Society and Councillor Osanic, and indicated that police are currently looking into it, however, they do not know whether any police action will be required or taken.

One thought on “Animal welfare organizations, Kingston Councillor oppose bull riding events

  • Funny how all animal acts in circuses are now banned but rodeos with animals are not.

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