CFD bans rodeo shock devices

Friday, April 18, 2008
By Cary Snyder
Wyoming Tribune-Eagle

Learn more about this issue at ShameOnCheyenne.com.

CHEYENNE -- Cheyenne Frontier Days has decided to outlaw the use of hand-held electric shock devices at the rodeo except in emergency situations where they are needed to prevent injuries.

The new regulations that will be imposed at this year's event are more stringent than Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rules, which the "Daddy of 'em All" previously followed.

The PRCA condones using a hand-held shocking device, or Hot-Shot, before a ride on a stalled animal with the contestant's and contractor's approval, as well as in other "necessary" times. Use is limited to the animal's hip and shoulder areas, which are typically its most muscular areas.

Bob Budd, chairman of CFD's animal care committee, called the shock devices a legitimate tool that may need to be used at certain times, but not behind the chutes.

"We're just saying, 'No, you can't do it. Period.' The only exception is if an animal or a human would be hurt," Budd said.

The policy change made public Friday followed a Thursday night meeting among CFD officials and comes after the rodeo has been the target of criticism in recent weeks by SHARK, or Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, an animal-rights group that has used video clips to allege the event perpetuates the inhumane treatment of animals.

Last week, the band Matchbox Twenty announced it was pulling out of being the opening-night for CFD on July 18 over concerns of what it considered the rodeo's mistreatment of animals.

SHARK President Steve Hindi lauded the policy change, calling it a significant first step that helps improve the image for everyone involved with rodeo.

"We're very supportive of any improvements that they (CFD) make. If they follow through on what they're claiming, it's a good thing. I think it's a very good thing," said Hindi, who visited Cheyenne this week to raise awareness about the group's concerns with CFD.

CFD officials acknowledge that the timing of the decision to outlaw electric shocking except in emergencies makes it appear the rodeo is simply reacting to SHARK's requests, but they say talk of modifying the process has been ongoing for the past two years.

"We have been discussing it for quite a while," Budd said. "I think his (Hindi's) video and comments and those sort of things were probably the culmination of a decision that's been coming for 24 months."

Following CFD in 2006, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle published a report and photographs that documented the apparent illegal use of Hot-Shots, including by one stock contractor who asked that the photos not be released because he believed he would be disciplined.

CFD General Chairman Charlie West said the decision to alter the rodeo's Hot-Shot rules was made in early March, and event officials have been working to fine-tune the policy before releasing it publicly.

He called the timing of the announcement and the attention SHARK brought to the issue "ironic."

"We don't put up with animal abuse, and we're doing everything we can prior to, during and after the show to make sure everything is being done right," West said. "If we see an infraction, we want to know about it, because it gives us a bad name."

Based on video SHARK captured during CFD last year, Cheyenne Police Chief Bob Fecht said it is "very possible" that stock hands violated a city ordinance governing cruelty to animals, as well as PRCA rules.

In one particular video clip that Fecht viewed again in his office Friday, a stock hand holding a shocking device grabs a horse by the mane near its ear while in the chute and appears to apply the device on the underside of the animal's neck before it starts to jump.

Fecht said it is not 100 percent clear that the incident constituted a crime or broke PRCA rules because the precise point of application is blocked from view.

One part of the city's cruelty-to-animals ordinance reads: "No person shall permit, induce or encourage any animal to perform through the use of chemical, mechanical, electrical or manual devices in a manner likely to cause physical injury, suffering or trauma to the animal."

"That's where I think some of the concern came in. Misuse of that device could be considered a violation of city ordinance," Fecht said.

Pointing to the difficulty in determining what constitutes animal cruelty, Fecht said electric shock collars are used to help train police dogs. While the collars do not cause physical injury, he said the slight shock causes the dogs to respond to the demand for attention.

"So is that permitting or inducing an animal to perform?" he said.

CFD and police officials have discussed different means of enforcing the new Hot-Shot regulation at this year's event. One possibility is that if CFD finds a violation, police could have the person permanently removed from the rodeo, Fecht said.

Hindi urged CFD to consider making other changes in its policies, including eliminating wild horse racing in its entirety and jerk-downs during calf roping, now known in rodeo circles as tie-down roping.

"I certainly don't want to pretend like this is insignificant. It's not," Hindi said of the rule change. "It's significant. However, there are a lot of other steps that I believe need to be taken."

In what they call an ongoing, non-stop process, CFD officials say a variety of committees continually critique the event every year to look for ways to improve the rodeo, including its practices toward the treatment of animals.

"I have said and we have said that we're willing to listen to any reasonable requests to improve our show. We looked at one thing and we said, 'I don't think that's right,'" Budd said.

Hindi said SHARK representatives plan to attend and videotape all CFD rodeo events this year.

"We're going to be there. We're going to be videotaping. Ugly images will still come out," he said.

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