Debate over the treatment of animals at the Luxton Pro Rodeo is heating up, with attention now turning to Greater Victoria businesses that sponsor the event.
The Vancouver Humane Society has revealed that 10 of last year’s business sponsors of the rodeo have contacted the group to say they’ve pulled their support for 2014. Meanwhile, other sponsors are accusing anti-rodeo groups and their supporters of aggressive campaigning.
Lynne Hedstrom, owner of Lynne’s Little Elf Garden Centre in Langford, is among those who have decided to stop sponsoring the event for 2014. The decision, she said, was purely business.
“I’m not really against it, to be honest with you, I just cannot afford to lose another customer,” she said.
Before the 2013 rodeo, Hedstrom said, she received many emails and letters from people saying they would not shop in her store because of her sponsorship.
“I got people that said they had shopped in my garden centre for years and absolutely refused to spend another dime in my store. So that’s tough. I had to make a decision, so I’m not going to support them this year, which is the first time in 36 years.”
Since making the decision to pull her sponsorship, she said, at least three people have emailed her to say they’ll go back to shopping at her store. Hedstrom said she felt intimidated by the boycotts and emails, but wouldn’t go so far as to say she was bullied or harassed.
“It’s a business decision … I just don’t need that aggravation.”
The Humane Society website also lists Langford Fountain Tire, My-Chosen Cafe, Cloverdale Paint and 100.3 the Q among other businesses no longer supporting the rodeo.
This year’s Luxton Pro Rodeo happens May 17, 18 and 19 at the Luxton Fairgrounds on Marwood Avenue in Langford.
Local organizers of the spring event would not comment on the sponsorship issue.
Animal rights group Victoria Citizens Against Rodeo Events sent an email in 2013 to all of the sponsors of the Luxton Pro Rodeo found in the official program for the event. The Vancouver Humane Society sent out a similar email this year.
Both emails contain information about what the organizations view as inhumane practices at the rodeo and include photographs of calf roping. They end with a plea for the businesses to pull their support.
“Please consider carefully where to spend your sponsorship dollars next year, as we cannot support any business that supports Luxton Pro Rodeo,” reads VCARE’s letter.
Both organizations have also at one time or another posted a list of rodeo sponsors on the Internet and have encouraged supporters of the campaign to write their own similar emails and letters to the businesses.
The reasons for the withdrawal of support from the 10 businesses listed may vary, but VHS projects and communications director Peter Fricker said he has been hearing lately from business owners who say they’ve been debating whether or not to continue sponsoring the rodeo for some time.
Another Langford business owner, Donna Chaytor of Old Style Repair, said it’s a campaign of intimidation and harassment from the anti-rodeo organizations and supporters.
“Sponsorship of a local community non-profit organization is a long stretch to being advocates of animal cruelty,” Chaytor wrote in a letter to the Gazette.
VCARE and VHS deny using intimidation in their campaign and say their correspondence has been polite and reasoned.
“(VCARE) has not done anything that could be considered harassment or bullying,” said organizer Melissa de Meulles. “We feel if you publicly sponsor an event, specifically a controversial event, you have to be open to receiving feedback from the public, from your community, from your customers.”
“They’ve received a few emails and letters, and only one letter directly from us, and they’ve compared that to cyber bullying, which I think is outrageous,” Fricker said. “I think it’s very obvious that this whole campaign … is to detract from the real issue here, which is animal cruelty at the rodeo.”
A survey conducted by Insights West marketing research company in November 2013 found 38 per cent of British Columbians polled supported using animals in rodeos, while 56 per cent were either “somewhat opposed” or “strongly opposed.” 704 people were polled overall, including 524 from the Lower Mainland 77 from Vancouver Island and 103 from elsewhere in the province.