Washington County Fair officials said a protest group is wrong in its claims that animals showcased at the fair are mistreated.
Strict rules govern how the livestock such as horses, cows, pigs and chickens are cared for during the fair, they said. The annual fair wrapped up Sunday after five days at the fairgrounds in Richmond.
“The animals are all very well cared for,” said Susanna Camacho, a West Greenwich farm owner and superintendent of herdsmen at the fair.
But a group that says it is fighting for animal rights disagrees, and paid a visit to the fair in protest.
Eight members of Providence Animal Save, a chapter of The Save Movement, held demonstrations Wednesday and Saturday at the entrance to the fairgrounds. The Save Movement is a worldwide network of groups bearing witness to farmed animals, advocating veganism, and promoting love-based grassroots activism, according to the organization’s website.
Christopher Disario, who founded and heads the Providence chapter, said the fair makes money off of animal exploitation, and could draw in crowds without using the animals at all.
“The public does not come for animal entertainment. They come for the rides and atmosphere,” Disario said. “There are plenty of fairs that do not use animals and they do great.”
Disario took aim at particular attractions, such as the oxen and horse pulls.
“I have seen pictures of the Oxen pulling the weight and they seem very strained. This is not what these animals naturally do on their own,” he said.
Organized racing of horses, rabbits and pigs are also strenuous for the animals, who don’t naturally perform such actions, Disario said.
“It's also worth mentioning that all these animals must be transported and this is very stressful for them, especially in the heat,” he added.
The fair hosts approximately 400 animals and 150 exhibitors over its five-day run each August. The event, which is organized and run by the Washington County Pomona Grange, just completed its 52nd year. The grange is a nonprofit, as are all of the food booths at the fair.
In most cases, the animals that are shown at the fair are raised and cared for by youngsters in the 4-H programs, Camacho said. Some horses and cattle in the pull contests are managed by adults.
Children in the 4-H program are between eight and 18 years old, but the fair allows young people ages 5 to 21 to show, she said. Her own three children have show animals.
“And the kids are always supervised by adults, such as parents, the veterinarians and the 4-H leaders,” she said. The youngsters also have a vested interest in making sure their animal is healthy and growing and in good condition for judging in the shows.
A state veterinarian is on the fairgrounds at all times, and examines animals as they arrive, Camacho added. When it’s hot, many are sprayed with water or mist, while others have constant fans blowing air their way, she said. They’re well-fed and regularly provided fresh water.
“We’re all animal lovers. It’s why we do this,” she said. “The animals are living in the same conditions as they would be on a farm.”
If animals ever were mistreated, Camacho said, other exhibitors would report such abuse. The animals also would show signs.
“An animal that’s being mistreated isn’t going to behave. It wouldn’t let you near it,” she said.
Disario said the protest group isn’t against farmers, but rather just wants an end to exploitation.
“We are simply speaking up for the animals that are being used. This is not an attack on anyone, it is a call for an end to the exploitation of sentient beings,” he said.