Position Statement on Animals in Recreation, Sport and Entertainment
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Position Statement on Animals in Recreation, Sport and Entertainment

Animals are used for recreation, sport and entertainment at a range of venues (e.g., zoos, aquariums, rodeos, circuses, and film and television sets) for a variety of activities (e.g., shows, demonstrations, rides, races, competitions and site-seeing tours). Whenever animals are on display or made to perform, they face risks to their physical and psychological well-being. Such risks concern how they are bred, raised, housed, trained and transported, as well as the activities themselves.

The BC SPCA is opposed to the killing of, or infliction of pain or suffering upon, any companion, farm or wild animal for recreation, sport or entertainment.

The use of animals for recreation, sport or entertainment is only acceptable if:

  • The Five Freedoms are ensured throughout the lives of these animals, including breeding animals, offspring and animals who have been retired from the activity;
  • Humane training methods are used;
  • The animals are healthy and receive sufficient rest from the activity;
  • The activity does not result in ongoing discomfort, pain or injury;
  • The animals have an appropriate temperament, level of experience, training and fitness for the activity; and
  • Their portrayal is not demeaning toward the individual animal or the species, which may undermine respect for and humane care of animals.

The health and welfare of the animals must be closely monitored at all times and action immediately taken if concerns arise. Monitoring of animal health and welfare should be done by an independent professional, such as a veterinarian or trained animal welfare auditor.

The BC SPCA does not endorse the use of animal handling and training techniques that use pain or fear to motivate behaviour change. The Society advocates for the use of humane, reward-based methods to foster trust and build positive human-animal relationships (see the BC SPCA position statement on Animal Training).

The BC SPCA supports the adoption and enforcement of strong welfare standards and laws for any animals used in recreation, sport or entertainment.

Approved by the Board of Directors – November 2021

(replaces Animals in Recreation, Sport and Entertainment, April 2008; Farm Animals in Rodeo and Other Entertainment, October 2010)

Background

The BC SPCA encourages patrons of activities where animals are used for recreation, sport or entertainment to carefully consider whether the animals are being cared for ethically before attending and research or ask the organizer for their animal welfare policies. Consideration should also be given to the care of breeding animals and those retired from the activity. The BC SPCA encourages patrons to support forms of entertainment that do not compromise the welfare of animals. This position statement applies to all uses of animals in sport, recreation or entertainment, including but not limited to:

Rodeos

The BC SPCA recognizes the province’s ranching traditions and that rodeo began as a way to showcase the essential skills needed to manage cattle on a range1. However, farming practices have changed and the techniques common at rodeos (e.g., bucking, chasing, roping) are no longer acceptable on a farm. Animal deaths and injuries at rodeos are reported annually across the country and animals who are not physically injured can still experience fear and stress as they attempt to escape. Regardless of whether an event is sanctioned by a professional rodeo association or not, every year, many animals suffer sprains, bruises, and broken limbs and necks during rodeos.

Where rodeos take place, the BC SPCA encourages the showcasing of low-stress handling skills and horse riding events that do not cause fear, frustration, anxiety, pain or injury to animals. The National Farm Animal Care Council’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle2 requires cattle handlers to use quiet handling techniques. The BC SPCA asserts that this standard should also apply to handling of cattle during rodeo events.

The BC SPCA encourages the public to not attend rodeos that include events that cause animals distress. See the BC SPCA position statements on Equine Welfare and Farm Animal Welfare.

Horse-drawn carriages

Horse-drawn carriages are only acceptable if they can operate safely and ensure a high level of welfare for the horses, including regular veterinary and hoof care. Higher welfare practices for horse-drawn carriages include:

  • Avoiding travel on traffic-congested streets;
  • Ceasing operations during extreme weather;
  • Providing appropriate feed, water and rest; and
  • Establishing standard operating procedures and planning for emergencies, including driver/handler training, emergency kits and post-emergency reporting.

Providing high quality care for horses during the off-season, as well as before and after their time as a carriage horse, must also be a priority.

The BC SPCA encourages clients of horse-drawn carriage rides to research the operator to verify they are ensuring a high level of welfare for their horses before engaging these services. See the BC SPCA position statement on Equine Welfare.

Horse racing

Factors that can decrease the welfare of racehorses include injuries, the use of whips, inadequate housing and socialization, and aversive training. Breeding for horse racing can also contribute to horse overpopulation and lead to unwanted horses. Additionally, training and racing young horses predisposes them to a higher risk of injuries, some of which are life-threatening. The BC SPCA encourages the racing industry toward improved care standards, humane horse training and support of retired racehorse rehoming initiatives.

Those interested in attending races should ask how horses are cared for before and after races and avoid races that allow continuous whip use and other aversive training. See the BC SPCA position statement on Equine Welfare.

Sled dogs

The BC SPCA believes that dogs kept for any purpose related to recreational or competitive mushing or commercial sled dog tourism must be provided with the Five Freedoms for the duration of their lives, including breeding dogs and dogs who have been retired from activity. Operators must follow the applicable regulations and standards, such as the Sled Dog Code of Practice3 and the Code of Practice for Canadian Kennel Operations4. The BC SPCA encourages those who wish to participate in a sled dog tour to select an operator that provides high welfare for their dogs. See the BC SPCA position statement on Dog Welfare.

Dog sports and competitions

Dogs participate or compete in many activities with their guardians such as agility, herding, dock diving, obedience trials, skijoring, tracking and more. It is important to ensure that dogs are physically fit, humanely trained and enjoy the activity they are participating in. Dog sports or competitions that use live animals to motivate performance should aim to replace these live animals due to the stress their involvement imposes on them. Dogs not suited to an activity or those who are retired from the activity should be cared for as per the BC SPCA position statement on Dog Welfare.

The BC SPCA encourages spectators of dog sports and competitions to only support those events that prioritize dog welfare, such as having an independent observer monitoring the competition and ensuring dogs are well cared for when not competing.

Conformation shows

Conformation shows are popular among those who breed animals, including companion animals such as dogs and cats and farm animals such as cattle and sheep. Competing in these events may include long travel times and overnight stays. Animals who attend these shows must be well socialized so that they do not experience fear or stress. Animals must also be well cared for before, during and after shows.

The BC SPCA encourages spectators of conformation shows to only support those events that prioritize animal welfare, such as ensuring good welfare for animals when not competing and ensuring animals are comfortable with handling that may occur during the competition.

Sport fishing

Fish, like other animals, can feel pain, fear and distress (see the BC SPCA position statement on Fish and Aquatic Invertebrate Welfare). The BC SPCA does not support sport fishing or catch-and-release fishing as they are done for recreational purposes, the latter injuring fish unnecessarily before release, and may cause prolonged death.

Wild and exotic animals in zoos, aquariums, circuses, film and television

There are wide variations in the level of welfare that different zoos and aquariums provide their animals. Many animals suffer in captivity even when the environment meets or exceeds industry standards. Institutions, facilities and businesses should ultimately phase out collections of these animals and, in the interim, must strive to meet the Five Freedoms at all life stages, both on and off exhibit. See the BC SPCA position statements on Wild and Exotic Animals in Zoos, Aquariums and Other Permanent Captivity and Marine Mammal Welfare.

The BC SPCA is opposed to the use of wild and exotic animals as circus performers, in traveling exhibitions or in the film and television industry. See the BC SPCA position statements on Circuses and Traveling Exhibitions and Animals in the Film and Television Industry.

Novelty events

Events such as dove releases, turtle racing, greased pig contests and guinea pig races place animals in high-stress environments where they experience fear. Without oversight or animal welfare standards, animals may be cared for inappropriately before or after the event. Animals may be sourced specifically for the event without planning for their care after the event. For this reason, the BC SPCA is opposed to the use of animals in novelty events and discourages the public from attending events using animals in this way.

See also:
Animal Fighting
Animal Training
Animals in the Film and Television Industry
Animals Used for Clothing, Fashion and Art
Circuses and Traveling Exhibitions
Dog Welfare
Equine Welfare
Falconry
Fish and Aquatic Invertebrate Welfare
Hunting
Marine Mammal Welfare
Trapping
Wild and Exotic Animals in Zoos, Aquariums and Other Permanent Captivity

Background updated – November 2021

References

1 Rizzuto S, Evans D, Wilson B and McGreevy P 2020 Exploring the use of a qualitative behavioural assessment approach to assess emotional state of calves in rodeos. Animals 10: 113

2 National Farm Animal Care Council 2013 Code of practice for the care and handling of beef cattle. Available from https://www.nfacc.ca/codes-of-practice/beef-cattle

3 Province of British Columbia 2012 Sled dog code of practice. Available from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/farming-natural-resources-and-industry/agriculture-and-seafood/animal-and-crops/animal-welfare/sled_dog_code_of_practice.pdf

4 Canadian Veterinary Medical Association 2018 Code of practice for Canadian kennel operations. Available from https://www.canadianveterinarians.net/documents/code-of-practice-for-canadian-kennel-operations

Definitions

Five Freedoms: A concept first developed in 1965 by The Brambell Committee, formed by the UK government to examine the conditions on commercial farms. Now internationally recognized, the Five Freedoms are considered applicable to all animals.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms (adapted from the original list) are:

1.    Freedom from hunger and thirst;
2.    Freedom from pain, injury and disease;
3.    Freedom from distress;
4.    Freedom from discomfort;
5.    Freedom to express behaviours that promote well-being.

The BC SPCA’s Five Freedoms form the basis of the Society’s Charter and describe conditions that must be fulfilled in order to prevent the suffering of all animals in human care. The Society acknowledges that these freedoms are not enforceable and that absolute provision of these freedoms may not be possible, but strongly encourages all animal guardians to strive to provide them.