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Cowboy Monkey Rodeo Drawing Backlash

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Animal rights activists are calling on teams around Minor League Baseball to stop hosting “cowboy monkey rodeo,” a controversial promotion that continues to draw the ire of some groups.  

Those that have followed baseball’s promotional circuit over the last few years have likely heard of or seen the promotion first hand. Under the billing Team Ghost Riders, Tim Lepard tours with a group of capuchin monkeys, who ride dogs as part of on-field appearances. It has become a common entry on promotional schedules, stirring some debate. While some see Team Ghost Riders as harmless entertainment, groups such as PETA have struck out against the promotion, citing its mistreatment of animals.

The Williamsport Croscutters (Short Season A; NY-Penn League) recently announced that they will no longer host such events, a decision PETA says was made after over 5,500 supporters submitted letters decrying the promotion.

“A baseball field is no place for a sensitive capuchin monkey who belongs in the treetops with his or her family—not dressed in a cowboy outfit and strapped to the back of a dog for a cheap laugh,” said PETA primatologist Julia Gallucci in a recent press statement. “PETA looks forward to a kinder future at Williamsport Crosscutters—and all Minor League Baseball—games.”

It should be noted that the Crosscutters were not the first team to make such a decision this season. Back in 2013, the Lexington Legends (Low A; Sally League) cancelled the event before its scheduled appearance, citing backlash from protesters.

There was also a recent statement by Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, which read:

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.”

Depending upon how it is interpreted, O’Conner’s statement could be seen as deferring to the team’s on this particular issues, and some clubs still plan to host the event before the season ends. One of those teams is the Wilmington Blue Rocks (High A; Carolina League), who will feature Team Ghost Riders on back-to-back nights starting August 26.

Already, the promotion in Wilmington–which was the first ever minor league city to host Lepard–is drawing both supporters and detractors. More from Delaware Online:

Wilmington artist Nick Blanco, in an impassioned letter to the editor published in The News Journal last week, wrote that he was angry and disgusted by the protesters’ “utterly invalid and exaggerated” claims. “True animal cruelty,” Blanco said, is dogfighting, hunting and puppy mills.

“All the animals in the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo are treated like kings,” wrote the 32-year-old, who met Lepard and his menagerie once a couple of years ago.

To show his appreciation for the creatures’ prowess, Blanco painted cartoonish tribute portraits and gave one to Lepard.

He says the event draws huge crowds who marvel at the spectacle. When the Cowboy Monkey Rodeo takes the field, the crowd erupts like it’s a Grand Slam.

“I felt like it was the coolest thing in the freaking world,” added Blanco. “I’ve never seen that stadium sold out ever except when cowboy monkey shows up.”

Dover vegan Charles Wolfe couldn’t disagree more. He’s done so on Facebook, before the Blue Rocks deleted his comments, he said.

The 35-year-old admits he’s never watched the cowboy monkeys in action, but he questions the audience’s judgment.

“They just look at them as entertainment — the same way people look at circuses,” he said. “They’re going and they think it’s a good laugh. Some people just don’t value the animal’s life the way others do.”

For right now, this issue–at least as far as MiLB is concerned–is in the hands of teams as they schedule their promotions. Whether more teams go the route of Lexington and Williamsport remains to be seen.

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