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Fresno County’s Riverdale Rodeo Ignites Animal Rights Concerns

Posted on | June 23, 2013 | No Comments

A video posted online by an animal rights group is sparking a modest barrage of concern and complaints over a “barnyard scramble” for children at last month’s Riverdale Rodeo.

In response to the complaints, and the possibility that a state law prohibiting such events might have been broken, rodeo officials will stop conducting scramble events, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.

The scramble is an event in which chickens, ducklings, rabbits, piglets and kid goats are set loose in an arena to be chased and captured by children, from toddlers to pre-teens. If a child catches a critter, it’s his or hers to keep.

Riverdale Rodeo Association president Darryl Mendes said the scramble has “been a tradition for as long as I can remember, ever since I was a kid.”

The 57th annual rodeo was held on the first weekend of May. It’s a slice of small-town life — a farm community festival with a parade, a rodeo queen and professional cowboys riding bulls, roping calves and busting broncos. In the town of 3,200 people, the Riverdale Rodeo Association is a booster, providing scholarships for students and money for local programs, including the volunteer fire department.

The barnyard scramble is part of the fun. But an animal-rights activist with a 20-year history of butting heads with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association over the treatment of rodeo livestock found the barnyard scramble particularly troubling.

Steve Hindi, president of Illinois-based SHARKonline.org — the acronym stands for SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness — and another member visited Riverdale with video cameras on May 5.

“We’ve seen these kinds of things before,” he said. “We certainly think they are bad for the animals, and it sends a really bad message to children about how to treat animals.”

The five-minute video shows rodeo organizers tossing animals out of trailers and containers onto the arena floor before children are turned loose to chase them. Segments show a young boy grabbing a baby duck by one wing before an adult takes the bird by the neck to return it to a box; a boy lugging a baby goat in a bear hug across the dirt; a rabbit frantically squirming in the arms of a little girl; and chickens and ducklings nearly being stepped on by eager children.

“Of course, none of the children intend harm but this is hardly the point,” Hindi wrote on SHARK’s blog. “This kind of event is basically telling children it’s OK to treat animals as if they are objects and prizes.”

Hindi said his group didn’t contact rodeo organizers with concerns, instead posting the video on YouTube in hopes of igniting grass-roots outrage.

“What we’re hoping is that people look at this video and they have a particularly negative response,” he said. “What we’d like is … that the rodeo association not have a barnyard scramble in the future. It was bad for all the animals. The ducklings were my biggest concern that they would get stepped on.”

Mendes, the rodeo association president, acknowledged that his organization received numerous complaints based on the video, but declined to discuss the scramble with a reporter.

“We heard about all this stuff a month ago,” he said. “I’m not going to comment anymore at this time.”

In addition to concerns over whether the scramble is cruel to animals, there may be legal questions over the practice as well. The California Penal Code makes it a misdemeanor to sell or give away “any live chicks, rabbits, ducklings, or other fowl as a prize for, or as an inducement to enter, any contest, game or other competition or as an inducement to enter a place of amusement or place of business.” Misdemeanors are typically punishable by fines and jail time.

Hindi said SHARK provided the video to the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office and believed it had been forwarded to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office. He added that he has not been notified whether an investigation is being conducted.

Sheriff’s spokesman Chris Curtice said the scramble was investigated. “When our detectives contacted Riverdale Rodeo officials about it, they had no idea they were doing anything wrong and agreed to discontinue the event,” Curtice said in an email Friday. “Also, charges are misdemeanors and we cannot cite an entity, (Riverdale Rodeo Association). Right now it appears that educating them worked.”

Hindi’s group also contacted the Central California SPCA, which has the authority to investigate allegations of animal cruelty or mistreatment in Fresno County. He expressed disappointment that the agency didn’t consider the activity to be either illegal or cruel.

SPCA spokeswoman Beth Caffrey said she was aware of complaints over the Riverdale scramble, but added that “we haven’t been provided with any evidence of anything inhumane or illegal with that situation.”

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