The Calgary Stampede has ended for another year, but the debate continues on the welfare of animals used in the rodeo events after the deaths of three horses in the chuckwagon races and a cow in the steer wrestling event.

Les McIntyre, who took over recently as the new voice of the chuckwagon races, says the countless animal fatalities caused by highway traffic are more tragic than the deaths at this year’s Stampede.

“You wanna know what’s tragic, when I’m driving down the road and seeing cats and dogs getting run over and the deer that’s getting hit everywhere,” said McIntyre.

“That to me is more tragic than the less than the (extremely small percentage) of horses that we’ve lost in the wagon racing.”

The most recent death happened Friday night when an outrider horse died of an apparent heart attack. Stampede officials said the horse was cooling down after a race when it collapsed and died.

McIntyre said it’s always tragic when people lose an animal whether it’s in wagon racing or horse racing or any other circumstances. But he stressed that owners of these athletic animals look after them with utmost care.

The Calgary Humane Society has remained silent about the tragic incidents. Several calls to the group over the past days have not been returned.

But the Vancouver Humane Society was quick to offer comment when contacted Sunday.

Spokesman Peter Fricker condemned the death of the rodeo animals in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“We compare the situation to that of circus freak shows — bear baiting, cock fighting,” said Fricker.

“We’re very sorry these animals had to die for what we think is a completely unnecessary purpose — entertainment to amuse a crowd.”

Fricker said he believes that pubic attitudes are changing and it’s time for rodeo officials at the Calgary Stampede to recognize this.

“We are getting a strong impression that there’s a shift in public opinion against rodeo at the Stampede,” he said. “We would hope management at the Stampede would take into account public opinion, even if that’s a minority view.”

Stampede President Dr. David Chalack says it was an average year for animal deaths, but he rejected any suggestion that the public is turning against the rodeo events.

“Regrettably, an animal will die from time to time,” said Chalack. “If you’re on any ranch or if you’re on any farming operation, animals die. So do humans.”

“We work with the SPCA and the humane society. Our image built over 97 years didn’t happen by being abusive to the very thing that makes us successful.”

He also says the controversy surrounding the deaths had no impact on attendance.

“We have such an iconic brand here,” he said. “I can tell you, none of (the protests) created any cloud or shadow in this great festival.”

Chalack, a veterinarian, said officials are always looking into how they can improve animal care.

“I make my living by looking after animals and animal welfare. It’s number one on our priority list,” he said. “We’re continually looking at the rules and programming so that we strive to improve every year in all areas.”

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