The big city vultures move in

Every year right on schedule you can expect the usual disparate group of animal rights protestors spewing their vindictive at the annual Calgary Stampede event. It’s usually a small band of zealots who gather at strategic intersections with signs expressing their outrage at the rodeo event. The local media take the usual photos and cursory interviews and the protestors then go back to whatever else they do – it’s all over in a couple of days. It’s all quite predictable and everyone involved from protestors to the media know their role.

But this year the protest was raised to a higher level by a more sophisticated and better connected organization than the usual group of local suspects. This group, by its actions, was able to get the attention of the national media and gathered for itself valuable free publicity.

This new player in the rodeo-animal rights circus, at least in Calgary, was the Vancouver Humane Society (VHS). This organization attempted to place graphic and provocative ads in both the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun newspapers. The ads were to protest a specific rodeo event called calf-roping (rodeo PR people have tried to rename it tie-down roping, to remove a possible cruelty implication).

Both newspapers refused to publish the ads, not because they were particularly offensive, but both newspapers are big time sponsors of Stampede events and are recipients of extensive advertising from the Stampede. Clearly a situation of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

That reaction was, of course, exactly what the schemers at the VHS had hoped for – being the ads were not going to set anyone on fire, but the response was surely going to get national attention. I expect that the planners at VHS knew exactly what buttons to push next and right on cue all of the national TV networks and eastern city newspapers fell for the bait.

Sanctimonious national TV announcers and reporters dutifully noted the despicable action of the newspapers and the alleged cruel event. Clips were shown of outraged VHS spokespeople and a befuddled response from Calgary Stampede PR people. It would seem the national media was chortling with delight in being able to attack such a national icon as the Calgary Stampede.

The VHS was, of course, laughing all the way to the bank having successfully duped the national media into giving them untold amounts of free publicity. What was lost in the spectacle was any examination of who this outside group was and why they needed to intrude on the territory of the Calgary Humane Society. After all, should not the local group be on top of any animal welfare issues involving the stampede. They are, but they are very different from the Vancouver group of a similar name.

Unbeknownst to most city folks, the Calgary group actually does work for the humane treatment of animals and actually operates shelters. The Vancouver group, on the other hand, does very little actual hands-on work with animals but is a big player as an activist organization advocating political and PR action. Their main function is to raise money through outrageous PR stunts that get the attention of naive city folks and a dumb urban media.

They have been successful with getting calf-roping events banned at BC rodeos, particularly in the Fraser Valley. But that is the bane of activist protest groups – you don’t really want your cause to succeed – being that will affect your reason to exist. The Vancouver group saw their cause succeed in the local area, so they needed another target to justify their existence. The reality is donors only give their money to causes that are not fulfilled.

So the brain-trust at the VHS figured out why not target the biggest dog in the world when it comes to rodeo, the Calgary Stampede. Just set out the bait with the local media and get a compliant and sympathetic national media ready to pounce. It was a surefire stunt.

The result was the Vancouver Humane Society got millions in free publicity. They can spend the next year crowing to potential donors about how successful they were in getting national attention focussed on an alleged despicable event. Society accountants will then spend the next year depositing cheques from gullible donors who in their delusion somehow believe that they are contributing to a worthwhile cause. The scams just never end.