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March 15, 2016 > Human and animal abuse in the name of culture and tradition

Human and animal abuse in the name of culture and tradition

By Eric Mills, OHS Community Relations

Cruelty is the only unforgivable sin.
- Tennessee Williams ("Night of the Iguana")

On March 3, 2016, Dallas Morning News reported on the deaths of a man and a woman, only weeks apart, at a popular backyard rodeo on the outskirts of town. Both deaths occurred during a non-sanctioned and unmonitored event called steer-tailing (see Google News - Mexican rodeos).

Steer-tailing: A mounted cowboy or "charro" chases a running steer down a long arena straightaway. The charro grabs the steer by the tail, wraps the tail around his leg and stirrup, and then rides his horse off at an angle. The intent is to roll the steer gently to the ground. More often than not, the hapless steer is thrown up in the air and then slammed brutally to the ground. Bruises and contusions are routine, and tails may be stripped to the bone or "degloved," even torn off. The horses involved sometimes suffer broken legs when the steers run the wrong way. Some "sport"!

I worked on a 2010 case in Golden, Colo. in which seven steers had their tails degloved in a single afternoon. Two others suffered a broken pelvis and a broken leg, and were euthanized, according to the local Sheriff's Department. Randy Janssen, a Texas charreada promoter (and lawyer), told me that even if the report was true, it was all worthwhile "since the charros had practice time in the arena with their horses." (See his website:

But it ain't just Texas and Colorado, folks. These backyard rodeos are rampant throughout California and the southwest. I'm told there are some 800 sanctioned charreadas held in California every year, all featuring the steer-tailing event. Reportedly, there are hundreds of other non-sanctioned events with no oversight or any veterinary presenceÑvery like the Dallas area situation.

I'm a big fan of cultural diversity but not when it involves animal abuse, which steer-tailing does big time. One of my most treasured possessions is a December 26, 1990 letter from Cesar Chavez, founder of United Farm Workers, in support of my efforts to reform both rodeos and charreadas. We'll soon be celebrating Chavez's birthday on March 31. Here's an excerpt from that letter: "Kindness and compassion towards all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people. Racism, economic deprival, dogfighting and cockfighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence. Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."

Words to live by. There'll likely be a great deal of lip-service paid to Mr. Chavez in the State Capitol and elsewhere during the coming days, but few take his work and philosophy to heart. Nor do most people know that Chavez was a vegetarian for ethical reasons.

For 25 years I've been seeking a legislator willing to introduce a bill to outlaw the steer-tailing event. No takers. The 25-member Latino Caucus, though sympathetic, won't touch the issue since it's only Mexican-Americans who take part. Other legislators won't carry the bill for fear of a backlash from the Latino CaucusÑa real Catch 22 and the animals suffer accordingly. Truth be told, both sides are playing a form of "reverse racism." Neither tradition nor culture should ever be allowed to trump animal welfare. We're better than this, yes?

There's good precedent: Horse tripping was outlawed in California in 1994. Alameda and Contra Costa counties banned steer-tailing in 1993; the State of Nebraska banned both in 2009. Steer-tailing is not a standard ranching practice anywhere in the U.S., nor is it sanctioned by any Western-style rodeo association. It needs to go.

What you can do: Deadline for bill introduction was February 19. However, most legislators keep handy a so-called "spot bill" for emergency situations, a bill they can "gut and amend" to suit the occasion. Let them hear from you! All legislators may be written c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA 95814. Email pattern for all:;

Relatedly: The Rowell Ranch Rodeo Committee (May 21-22) plans to again feature the abusive and nonsensical wild cow milking contest, notwithstanding that the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District (HARD) received more than 300 letters in support of a ban after the death of a cow at the 2014 rodeo. Mutton busting may be offered again, tooÑa blatant violation of current policy. Please express your views to Paul McCreary, HARD's new General Manager, and the Board of Directors: HARD, 1099 E St., Hayward, CA 94544; email

Recommended reading: Pope Francis' August 2015 EncyclicalÑrife with our duties to animals, the planet and each other.

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