California rodeo animals face violent and deadly casualties: Broken backs, legs and skulls

As the Los Angeles City Council prepares to weigh in on a measure to effectively ban rodeos, a review of 21 years of rodeo animal injury reports shows a hidden, violent and deadly side to a sport heralded as an icon of American tradition.

A Times’ review of the reports shows that since 2001 — when a state a law went into effect requiring all rodeos to have a veterinarian in attendance or on call — more than 125 animal injuries have been reported. The reports were written by attending or on-call veterinarians and submitted to the California Veterinary Medical Board. The reports were acquired via a public records request.

No reports were issued in 2001, 2002, 2006, 2009 or 2020. Only twenty reports were issued before 2010.

The reports document injuries ranging from minor maladies such as the superficial abrasions suffered as panicked animals rushed out of their chutes, to crushed skulls, broken legs, gored flanks and snapped spines.

For instance, in 2016, Wayne Merhoff, a Red Bluff-based veterinarian, reported that a calf at the Red Bluff Round-Up had suffered a broken leg during a calf roping event. The owner of the calf refused to let Merhoff treat the animal, leaving its fate unknown.

“Personal property rights are in conflict with my efforts to attend to these animals,” Merhoff wrote in his report, noting that several animals had been reported injured at the round-up, but their owners refused to let him see them.

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