The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) filed a lawsuit today against the California Rodeo Salinas for allegedly underreporting animal injuries to the state veterinary medical board, a practice that representatives say is intentionally misleading the public.
Carter Dillard, director of litigation for the ALDF, said some of the injuries documented in the complaint, filed in the Monterey County Superior Court, are permissible under state law. But, he said that’s not the point.
“The industry doesn’t want people to know the truth because probably a lot of what is currently allowed would actually be prohibited if people knew about it,” Dillard said.
California Rodeo Salinas spokeswoman Amanda Gianolini said the rodeo hadn’t yet been served with a filed copy of the complaint and declined to comment on its contents or allegations.
“The care and handling of livestock at our rodeo is the highest priority and we have extensive programs in place to provide for the livestock that participate in our event,” Gianolini said in a prepared statement.
The California Rodeo Salinas holds its annual rodeo each summer in mid-July, drawing crowds of around 50,000 people, according to ALDF representatives.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the nonprofit organization, Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK), alleges SHARK filmed 41 injuries to animals at the rodeo over the past two years but said rodeo officials reported only four to the state.
Of those, the vast majority involved injuries to the animals’ stifle joint (or knee joint, in humans) on their rear legs from being roped and dragged to the ground.
Four of the injuries were more serious in nature, including broken necks, bone fractures and tennis ball-sized wounds.
The suit cites California law stating, “[a]ny animal that is injured during the course of, or as a result of, any rodeo event shall receive immediate examination and appropriate treatment by the attending veterinarian…”
Dillard said the underreporting of injuries was likely an attempt to paint a rosier picture for the animals than reality dictates.
“The fact that rodeos are a tradition is not an excuse,” Dillard said. “It’s the lowest form of pandering to the idea of commemorating the American West.”
Dillard said a more appropriate tribute would be committing land to environmental conservation.
The suit asks the judge to compel rodeo staff to file timely injury reports “that fully and accurately disclose all animal injuries” occurring during the rodeos, pay for the group’s attorneys’ fees and other costs, and “any other equitable relief as is just and proper.”
Dillard said more than anything, the lawsuit would likely expose a pattern of behavior at rodeos throughout the industry and might help end the institution all together.
“We’re hoping these things will eventually become a thing of the past,” Dillard said.