The planned visit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to the Calgary Stampede has led to widespread criticism in the media.  There are many who say that the visit should not take place, that the rodeo involves the unnecessary animal suffering and is not even a sport.

Rodeo Image by: Mary R. Vogt

What is sport? It has been defined as: ‘pleasant pastime, amusement, diversion.’ Can suffering ever be seen as amusement? It would seem so, and it is not confined to ‘dumb’ animals. In ancient Rome, early Christians were thrown to the lions in the amphitheatre, a pleasant diversion, no doubt, for the spectators. We are better informed these days and after almost two millennia we have evolved the concept of human rights.  Few today would think of such fare as entertainment – not as a public spectacle. A warning could be taken from the fate of the Roman Empire, clearly decadent and eventually to be overwhelmed by a sea of barbarian invaders. Indeed, nothing so distinguishes a society as its taste in leisure.

In our scant regard for animals, we have progressed but little in two thousand years. Now, animals are the new defenceless, the new weak; we are the new barbarians. In our mastery of the natural world, we are overlooking that responsibility brings obligations; in this case, the acknowledgment that animals suffer as we do, being, like us, made of blood and nerve and bone. We ought to treat them accordingly. Truly, we will pay a terrible price for our mismanagement.  As the poet William Blake said:

‘A Horse misused upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for human blood’.

We simply must stop acting as though we are the only species that matter, as if all else are commodities. Our survival depends on it; all species are interdependent.

People must be trained in the use of their imagination. Children should be taught empathy alongside mathematics and domestic science.

No doubt if Prince William and Katherine forgo the Calgary stampede, this particular cruelty will continue. But others  may begin to think, and that is a true beginning. Nor can Prince William ‘buck’ the question. To refuse to attend the proffered entertainment will doubtless offend his Canadian hosts, but he could be ensnared by protocol. His is a difficult position. Like us all, there is a choice, and here is an opportunity to fly a new standard from  the mast. It is a choice between following the party line, ploughing the same tired old furrow, or striking out anew. It would take bravery.

In the words of Albert Schweitzer: ‘We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals.  Animals suffer as much as we do.  True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them.  It is our duty to make the whole world recognise it.  Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.’ 

Image by: Mary R. Vogt