By Kristofer Noceda
HAYWARD — Park district directors voted Monday evening to slap the Rowell Ranch Rodeo Association with a $2,500 fine for violating a rule that bans the use of electric prods, and the Sheriff's Department said it is looking at a possible animal cruelty charge in the case.
"It is an ongoing investigation," said Sgt. Scott Dudek.
The investigation is still in its preliminary stages, but an individual has been identified in a video recording that shows the use of a Hot-Shot electric prod on horses during the Rowell Ranch Rodeo in May.
The man, who works for longtime rodeo animal provider Flying U Rodeo Co. in Marysville, may face a charge of cruelty to animals and violating state law, Dudek said.
Officials from Flying U said they were not worried about the investigation.
"We produce 50 rodeos a year, and this was the first problem we have ever encountered," said Flying U Manager Reno Rosser, son of the company's owner, Cotton Rosser. "We're just going to keep doing what we've been doing. It's a labor of love."
For the past 52 years, Cotton Rosser, 80, has been producing the Grand National Rodeo, Horse, & Stock Show at the Cow Palace in Daly City.
Over the years, the Flying U has brought 600 animals to the historic venue, and there have been no known complaints regarding their handling of animals in San Mateo County.
In 2000, state Sen. Don Perata, D-Oakland, introduced legislation banning the use of electric prods or any similar device on any animal once the animal is in a holding chute. It was enacted into California law that year.
The video, provided to MediaNews by an animal rights organization, shows a cowboy dressed in a blue shirt, white hat and sunglasses using an electric prod on broncs to prompt them out of the chutes.
The video riled animal rights activists, who helped bring the case to the attention of Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) officials.
HARD, which owns and operates the rodeo park, has a 20-year policy that bans the use of electric prods on animals during rodeos. The policy pre-existed the state law banning prods.
In response to the video, HARD Superintendent Larry Lepore initially recommended suspending Flying U and Cotton Rosser for one year.
The suspension would have kept Rosser out of next year's rodeo, possibly ending his 52 consecutive years of providing animals for the popular event.
But board directors unanimously decided Monday to fine the rodeo association, citing this as the first known violation of the no-prod policy. The association is responsible for contracting Flying U for rodeos at Rowell Ranch.
Of the $2,500 fine, $2,000 will go to the Sulphur Creek Nature Center for animal rehabilitation; the rest of the funds will go to HARD, said Rita Shue, HARD general manager.
The amount of the fine falls within state recommendations for violating the California law.
Before the decision, directors spent about an hour hearing from a parade of speakers on the issue.
Among them was Cotton Rosser, who said he was previously unaware of the policy and apologized.