Will LA’s Proposed Rodeo Ban Stop the Cruelty?

ANIMAL WATCH-A March 6, 2019, report prepared by LA Animal Services GM Brenda Barnette recommended to the Mayor and City Council that the LA Municipal Code (LAMC) be amended to prohibit rodeo events in the city. There was no public notice other than the agenda for the LA Animal Services Commission meeting on March 12. 

Barnette requested the City Council to direct the appropriate City staff to prepare an ordinance to reflect the recommended changes -- seemingly unaware that defining the intricate "recommended changes" to accomplish her proposed ban is her responsibility. And, although the City Attorney would prepare the final ordinance, LA Animal Services will be responsible for enforcement.  

Barnette's brief report also does not mention State law, which already defines a rodeo and imposes regulations. 

Mercifully, before the report was approved without any practical discussion of implementation, Commission President Larry Gross insisted that an LA City Animal Control Officer be involved in developing the wording. 

Barnette's report is filled with embarrassing errors. Doesn't an issue this serious -- and the welfare of animals -- deserve a spell-check and fact-check? It states, "Each year the City of Los Angeles host [sic) rodeo exhibition [sic] or contest [sic] in which participants perform various activities involving animals including riding broncos, roping calves and/or wresting [sic] steers.” 

The primary advocate for this proposal at the meeting testified that there have been no rodeos held in LA City for approximately 20 years -- until the Staples Center event in February 2019. 

This would coincide with the passage of AB 1614 (Strickland) in 2007, which was signed into law as Penal Code Sec. 596.7 and defines a rodeo as a "performance featuring competition between persons that includes three or more of the following events:  bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, or team roping." 

CA state law also imposes penalties for violation of the various provisions, which include injuries to animals, the presence or availability of a veterinarian and the imposition of fines from $500 to $5,000 for violations. 


Barnette provided a brief list of CA cities which already regulate, restrict or prohibit rodeos. 

Irvine passed a ban on rodeos in 2011, but Costa Mesa is only 7 miles away, and look at what takes place there: 

Extreme Rodeo | Orange County Fair & Event Center - Costa Mesa, CA. The traditional rodeo gets turned up a notch for two nights of Extreme Rodeo (Aug. 1 and 3) featuring wild antics like Ring of Fire, Toro Totter and Bull Poker." 


Top 10 Best Rodeo in San Mateo, CA - Last Updated February 2019 


Heather Hamza, who identified herself as a registered nurse and animal-rights activist, testified before the Commission, stating, "Circuses take wild animals and make them tame. Rodeos take tame animals and make them wild." 

She described how the animals in rodeos are artificially induced to be terrified, and also often suffer grave injuries and death as a result of participating in rodeo events, which included horses running into walls and killing themselves, bulls breaking their legs and backs, and steers and calves having their necks injured during roping and wresting events. 

She also described wild cow milking events as "actually like gang rape, it's disgusting." 

Hamza added that a recent Professional Bull Riders competition held at Staples Center on Feb. 22-23 sparked a significant protest but could "blow the door open for full-blown rodeos'' in Los Angeles and this prompted a movement in the animal-rights community to have them banned. 


On February 22 - 23, an Iron Cowboy event announced, "The Professional Bull Riders come to the Staples Center for the first time with biggest competition ever. PBR brings its 2nd Major of the 2019 Season to Staples Center and its most popular competition format known as the Iron Cowboy." 

The event drew a large crowd of protesters organized by the local activist group, Last Chance for Animals, which described bull riding as "abhorrent cruelty" -- a "sport" that abuses animals for profit. Bulls, which are generally tame creatures that must be provoked into battle, are routinely fitted with tight, painful flank straps, shocked with 5,000-volt electric prods, and kicked with spurs in order to encourage aggressive behavior. As the bulls buck wildly to rid themselves of the rider and these tools of torment, their weight couples with their unnatural movement often leads to horrific injuries and even death." 

Groups like Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) have used social media to such a great degree [and so effectively] that it is hard to refute egregious acts of animal exploitation and abuse,  writes Julia Orr for the Huffington Post

SHARK’s video of horses being given electric shocks to force them to buck at the Reno Rodeo tore across the national media and suddenly, the great American myth of the traditional rodeo where old fashioned cowboys show off their skills, came to a crashing halt," she writes...."But the Reno Rodeo is a huge money making event for everyone concerned. It is estimated to bring in around $42 million to the local economy." 


On January 15, 2015, Dr. Peggy W. Larson, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, describes her personal and professional experience and defines many of the rodeo events listed on the L.A. Animal Services report AND she describes Anti-Rodeo Legislation.  

 Rodeos:  Inherent Cruelty to Animals?  

During the course of my lifetime, I have been a farmer, a bareback rodeo bronc rider, a large animal veterinarian, a medical researcher, a meat inspector, a state veterinarian, and a prosecutor. I have also worked as a media consultant on animal welfare issues including rodeo and PMU (pregnant mare’s urine) horses. Based upon my extensive large animal experience, I have concluded that rodeo events are inherently cruel. 

Anti-Rodeo Legislation 

A number of cities across the country have passed ordinances eliminating rodeo's most common devices--the electric prod, spurs and the flank strap--all of which use pain to force the animals to "perform." These include Pasadena (CA), Fort Wayne (IN), Pittsburgh (PA), Leestown (VA), and the state of Rhode Island. It is no accident that where these devices are eliminated, rodeos disappear. Internationally, both the UK and the Netherlands have banned rodeos outright. 

In my opinion, and based on my extensive training and experience, it is impossible to create a humane rodeo. 


Los Angeles City Council could (1) ban rodeos in LA but also lose an opportunity to educate about the cruelty; as LA shines its halo, Councilman Paul Koretz blusters in front of TV cameras, and LA residents drive a few miles away to see cowboys; 

Or (2) ban the implements or conditions that create the cruelty and discomfort to the animals that is necessary to cause them to buck, run, or try to escape (essential for the rodeo event) and thus set a precedent that other municipalities could emulate. 

OR, in the likely scenario that the City Council does not want to vote against the millions of dollars derived in other monetary benefits from this "sporting" event, shouldn't the City at least structure cost-recovery permits that send the message it doesn't pay to harm animals in Los Angeles? 


Here's how easy it is to attend a rodeo outside LA City limits: 

California Rodeos List of Events in CA The rodeo exemplifies California's Wild West roots. See our story and ode to the California Cowboy. Livestock and cattle are one of California's major industries...


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a contributor to CityWatch and a former Los Angeles City employee.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.