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August 17, 2010 > Ohlone Humane Society: Some would call it murder

Ohlone Humane Society: Some would call it murder

By Eric Mills, OHS Community Relations Director/Legislative Analyst

As you're likely aware, a pregnant cow and her unborn calf were gunned down at the California State Fair on the morning of Tuesday, July 27.The Fair was not yet open. The shooting (some would call it MURDER) was ordered by U.C. Davis veterinarian, Dr. Ben Norman, with the approval of the Fair's General Manager, Brian May. The mayhem has inspired extensive media coverage and demonstrations at the Fair's entrance. People are rightfully outraged.

The cow, due to deliver her full-term calf the following day, escaped her handlers while being transferred to the Fair's "birthing" exhibit. Someone then attempted to herd the distraught animal through the fairgrounds with an SUV, if you can believe it. With scores of cowboys, ranchers, farmers, and stock handlers nearby, why didn't anyone think to ROPE the cow and lead her back to safety? She assuredly was not "rampaging," as some in the media reported. Cell phone videos showed the cow ambling along at a leisurely pace.

Adding insult to injury, UCD's Dr. Norman referred to the expectant mother as a "nutjob" and "mean," then ordered the cops to shoot her. They did so, ELEVEN TIMES, all body shots, killing both cow and unborn calf, in front of horrified bystanders (reminiscent of the recent killing of the wayward fawn by Oakland police). The cow's death was neither quick nor humane. Cruelty aside, what a terrible message to send to fairgoers, just when the Fair is trying to burnish its already-tarnished image and improve its falling revenues. There may well have been "nutjobs" on site, but the cow was not one of them.

At best, the life of dairy cows is not an easy one. They're kept pregnant constantly (otherwise they wouldn't produce milk) the babies routinely separated from their mothers at birth, never to nurse normally. The calves are either slaughtered immediately (for "bob veal"), or destined for the "milk-fed veal" market, where they are confined in tiny wooden crates for six weeks, chained at the neck, in the dark, unable to turn around or even lie down comfortably. They are bucket-fed a chemically-laced liquid diet purposefully lacking in iron, so as to produce the pale anemic "milk-fed veal" sold in fancy stores. "Milk-fed" is a lie.

A small group of animal protectionists has been lobbying the Fair Board and its General Manager & CEO, Norbert Bartosik, to revise their animal welfare policies ever since 2004, when a rodeo bull had his back broken in that inane "Cowboy Teeter-totter" event, a Cotton Rosser/Flying U Rodeo Co. production. Even then, we were asking for a ban on the "birthing" exhibits, wild animal acts, elephant rides (which were allowed on site as late as 2009), and abusive and dangerous rodeo events such as "bull poker" and "mutton busting." Our repeated pleas fell on deaf ears. And now the chickens, as they say, have come home to roost. Some of the saddest words in the English language are, "I told you so."

In 2004, the Fair boasted a 27-member "Animal Welfare Committee," all of whom had vested interests in the use/abuse of animals, with not a single person on the committee from the animal protection community. Mr. Bartosik and the Board finally relented and added Curt Ransom (Humane Society of the U.S.) to the committee. Curiously, the committee met only one more time, and has not convened since. It should be revitalized, this time with a more evenly-balanced representation, and be required to meet on a regular basis, say twice a year, with those meetings open to the public.

In the wake of the cow shooting, 10 state legislators (including Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and Assemblymember Dave Jones, both representing Sacramento) signed a joint letter addressed to Gil Albiani, chair of the CalExpo Board of Directors, requesting the following:

* A full investigation of the cause of the July 27 incident and the response of Fair staff and law enforcement.

* The development of written procedures and training for the safe enclosure and handling of all animals at the Fair, including humane contingency plans for when animals escape.

* An evaluation of whether the Livestock Nursery exhibit is appropriate or humane for the animals involved.

The letter closes with this statement: "Upon completion of your review of these issues, we look forward to hearing about the results of your investigation and any changes to your current procedures for the humane, appropriate and safe handling of animals at the Fair." Fair enough.

As animal advocates have stated repeatedly, "The California State Fair belongs to EVERYBODY, not just to the CalExpo Board of Directors." We concur with the sentiments expressed by our state legislators, but we also would like to see "birthing" exhibits banned at all state and county fairs.

Expectant farmed animals just like human animals, desire and deserve solitude and quiet, not to be gawked at by a bunch of noisy spectators in a carnival atmosphere. Surely, there are better and more humane ways to educate the public. One wonders, too, how many animals have aborted during transport. It should be further noted that the Fair also featured pregnant sows in those horrendous metal "farrowing crates," barely larger than the sows' bodies, and only inches away from the public. Had the sows stood up, they could easily have crushed their piglets. Not acceptable.

If the California State Fair is to survive and thrive, these issues must be addressed and resolved... and soon.

WRITE: All state legislators may be written to c/o The State Capitol, Sacramento, CA95814.
Norbert Bartosik, General Manager & CEO,and the Board of Directors, CalExpo and State Fair,1600 Exposition Blvd., Sacramento, CA95814; tel. 916/263-3000; email -

Copies of your letters would be appreciated. Please mail to: Eric Mills, Ohlone Humane Society, PMB 108, 39120 Argonaut Way, Fremont, CA 94538-1304. Thanks for caring.

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