Anti-cruelty group takes aim at NFR sponsors



December 2, 2004

Allegations of cruelty have again surfaced against the Professional Rodeo Cowboys' Association (PRCA) and its National Finals' Rodeo. The group, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), is promising to take the issue to the NFR's major sponsors - companies such as Wrangler, Jack Daniels, Dodge and Budweiser.

Leaders of the group were in Las Vegas last week coinciding with the PRCA convention. SHARK invited leading representatives of the rodeo industry to a news conference but none showed up. SHARK played a tape, which President Steve Hindi says was shot at recent PRCA-sanctioned rodeos.

Much of the footage shows violations of the PRCA's own guidelines on animal welfare. Horses were repeatedly teased and goaded before they enter the arena. One horse has his head repeatedly slammed against a gate, while others have their tails and ears twisted. Handlers routinely shocked animals with a 5,000 volt electric prod, including applying it to their faces, despite a PRCA rule that states that prods should only be used "when necessary and may only touch the animal on the hip and or shoulder area."

The tape also documents the finals of the calf- and steer-busting events held recently in Amarillo, Texas. Ten animals were paralyzed or killed in those events, which, according to SHARK officials, are outlawed in 40 states including Nevada.

The group's challenge to PRCA officials was ignored and resulted in rows of empty chairs for the invited guests who did not show up. Hindi derided their Western values: "They say they're big tough men and they won't even show up to debate us."

PRCA Animal Welfare Co-ordinator Cindy Schonholtz issued a statement after the news conference acknowledging the SHARK claims. She reiterated the association's common response to animal rights groups, saying, "We have more than 60 regulations governing the care and treatment of rodeo animals at PRCA-sanctioned rodeos. If we can verify that the tapes ... are authentic and have not been edited, we research and evaluate any alleged rules infringements. If any violations are found, these infractions will be handled in accordance with the PRCA rulebook." She added that veterinarians and other officials monitor the animals at all events.

Hindi says this is the typical PRCA approach and that his tape shows how routinely the rules are flouted at PRCA events. One segment shows a vet lazily walking to a paralyzed calf, briefly looking at it and then allowing it to be dragged off to a covered section behind the arena where all injured animals were dumped.

Hindi says that the footage his group captured is never seen when rodeo appears on ESPN and other cable channels because the PRCA produces the coverage and deliberately diverts the cameras from the most brutal aspects of the sport. He blames the networks for keeping alive a sport that has little or no spectator interest. The SHARK video of the Amarillo event shows almost empty stands.

SHARK officials have previously written to sponsors in hopes of undercutting the PRCA's financial support but are promising this year to make appointments and visiting marketing executives of the PRCA's major sponsors to press their case.

Business Press contacted the companies that sell Wrangler clothes and Jack Daniels whiskey. Both initially expressed interest in commenting. After viewing the video on the Internet, the Jack Daniels' spokesman did not call back and, despite being in Las Vegas, the Wrangler representative had not returned calls by press time.

Hindi is not surprised. He says that only "the ethical bankruptcy of corporate America" is keeping the rodeo in business.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority says that last year's NFR generated $50 million in non-gaming ecnomic activity and predicts that this year's will rise by 5.6 percent to $52.8 million.

Excerpts of the SHARK video are available at www.sharkonline.org.

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