"Say no to rodeo," the crowd chanted. "No more animal exploitation."
In Defense of Animals, a nationwide advocacy group, organized the protest in response to the highly publicized Cowboy Heritage Rodeo 2000, a two-day competition held in downtown Jamaica and sanctioned by the International Professional Rodeo Association.
Protesters denounced the way animals are treated in rodeo competitions across the country, but organizer Fred Brothers, a Laurelton resident, said rules governing rodeos ensure humane treatment and transportation of animals.
Perhaps the only sight seemingly more out of place in the inner city neighborhood than a rodeo is a protest against the rodeo. The demonstrators, mostly white and hailing from other parts of Queens and Long Island, were heckled by cowboys and cowgirls who had competed in the event.
Spectators leaving the rodeo along with residents passing by looked at the protesters with bewilderment, but some stopped to pick up literature or view the video shown by In Defense of Animals.
"This is just silly," said Kevin Daniel, a competitor in the calf-roping event. "We don't torture the animals."
Daniel said the rodeo participants encounter animal rights activists across the country and he was "just sick of it."
Organizers of the event said that by bringing the rodeo to the inner city, they were helping residents connect with an important aspect of American history and culture.
But protesters said the organizers were simply abusing animals for the purposes of profit and entertainment.
"Rodeo should be banned," said Manhattan resident Barbara Stagno, the northeast director of In Defense of Animals. " We don't think children - or anybody - should be seeing that stuff."
Stagno said Maryland, Hawaii, and Pittsburgh have already banned rodeos.
She said bull riding and bronco riding necessitates whipping the animals into a frenzy by stunning them with electric prods and placing straps around the animals' genitals and abdomen to make them buck.
Stagno said her group also denounces calf-roping because baby cows are forced to run at top speed after being tortured before entering the arena.
Brothers flatly denied that animals are given electric shocks to make them perform.
"That is just not true," he said. "These animals buck naturally."
Brothers, who grew up on a farm in North Carolina, said while a strap is placed on the animals, it does not cause any pain. He also rejected the assertion that cattle roping is cruel.
"They have been using the same technique to put brands on cattle for generations," said Brothers.
A veterinarian from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was on hand to examine all the animals as was Brothers' own veterinarian who cares for his horse.
"They have the right to their opinion, but they don't really know what they are talking about," Brothers said.
The demonstration lasted for about an hour and a half and then resumed for the final session of the rodeo later Saturday evening.
Warren Doyne of Flushing said he fears children may try to wrestle their dogs to the ground or rope their cats after watching live rodeo.
"Cruelty to animals should not be allowed in a civilized society," he said.
©2000 Community News Group
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