Capuchin Monkey (photograph courtesy of Wikipedia)
I’d never been to a game where the scheduled entertainment was the “Cowboy Monkey Rodeo,” so I never much thought about it. However, as we drove up to the Frederick Keys’ stadium on Friday night, all of a sudden it became an important issue. Outside the stadium was a small group of protesters, At first we weren’t sure what the people with the signs outside the stadium were doing. I thought maybe it was just folks stirring up support for local politicians ahead of the primary election to be held in a few weeks. But as we walked through the parking lot and approached the stadium, I realized what the protest was all about: the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo was at the stadium over the weekend, and animal rights activists weren’t happy about it. Similar protests have been aimed at minor league baseball teams in Lancaster, PA; York, PA; Harrisburg, PA; Kalamazoo, MI; and Wilmington, DE.
The Cowboy Monkey Rodeo consists of capuchin monkeys dressed as cowboys riding on dogs and herding sheep. To be honest, it was just weird. Nonetheless, the crowd seemed more excited about this spectacle than the actual game, and lots of folks were taking pictures and filming it with their cell phones. But I just felt uncomfortable. I mean, monkeys dressed as cowboys riding on dogs herding sheep just isn’t a naturally occurring phenomena. The outfit alone would be humiliating enough.
But even worse, according to organizations like the Human Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the show is abusive to the monkeys. A Humane Society fact sheet on “Cowboy Monkey” acts states that the monkeys are “tethered to a saddle on the back of border collies who run at high speeds around a field herding sheep. The dogs can reach speeds of up 30 m.p.h. and abruptly stop, start, turn, lie down, and stand up, causing the monkey to be violently jerked forwards and backwards and slide wildly from side to side.”
Earlier this year, the Hartford Yard Goats cancelled plans to host the monkey rodeo after being contacted by the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance and other organizations, including the Connecticut-based Our Companions Animal Rescue. The Yard Goats weren’t the first team to do so. In 2013, the Lexington Legends cancelled the act because the proper permits for the monkeys to enter the state of Kentucky were not obtained. The Humane Society of the United States also had sent Legends chief operating officer an email asking the team to reconsider the promotion. Once the team was made aware of concerns surrounding the event, the director of marketing said they would likely not schedule the act in the future. Similarly, the York Revolution decided to discontinue the event in 2017.
In August 2016, Minor League Baseball issued the following statement: “Minor League Baseball neither supports nor encourages the practice of using animal acts of any kind, especially animal acts for which the Humane Society has expressed serious concerns, to entertain our great fans. We encourage clubs to ensure that the promotions they host do not endanger the health or safety of any animal, but respect the rights of our teams to make decisions regarding their promotional events at the local level.” Nonetheless, teams like the Frederick Keys and Wilmington Blue Rocks continue to schedule the act, noting that it draws a big crowd and is one of the most popular promotions they have.
A recent article condemning the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo on NPR.com quoted Erika Fleury, program director of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance as saying: “Monkey rodeos are nothing more than star-spangled animal abuse. What is most cruel is the force necessary to make the rodeos possible. Monkeys are normally inquisitive and independent. It is highly unnatural for them to be dressed in clothes and strapped to the back of another animal, and for what? For a few minutes of base ‘entertainment’? These monkeys have no choice but to literally go along for the terrifying ride.”
Have you seen the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo? What do you think?