It’s not Pamplona, but the Great Bull Run in Pleasanton on Saturday is about as close to the legendary San Fermin running of the bulls festival Northern California will ever get to see.
Despite plenty of backlash, thousands of thrill-seekers are expected to grab life by the horns, running the quarter-mile course trying to dodge 18 bulls along the way.
What event organizers are calling a festival, animal rights activists call animal abuse in the name of cheap thrills.
A lawsuit filed jointly by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and PETA wants to shut down the Pamplona-style Great Bull Run, claiming that the events violate California’s anti-cruelty and unfair competition law, is currently tied up in courts.
“It’s a frivolous lawsuit,” said Rob Dickens, CEO of the Great Bull Run. “They are claiming a lot of crazy things, including that we are abusing our bulls. If we were whipping and hitting our bulls, somebody would have taken pictures. Animal abuse is a much more dangerous crime than running bulls down a quarter-mile dirt course.”
There have been eight Great Bull Runs since the event's debut in Richmond, Virginia, in August 2013, with the most recent tour being held in Chicago last week.
Usually 5,000 to 8,000 people show up for each event, as do animal rights protesters.
“It’s an absurd spectacle that’s totally unnecessary," ALDF attorney Matthew Liebman said.
Liebman said California law prohibits animals from fighting with each other or with humans as well as anything that causes them pain and suffering.
Dickens denies that his event is a bull fight.
“We have 28 bulls each running a quarter of a mile – we don’t hit them or shock them or do anything to make them run, they are just trained to run,” he said. “We’ve had zero injuries of our bulls so far.”
The runners haven’t been as lucky, unfortunately.
“We get two to four injuries per event – it’s nothing serious,” Dickens said.
But Liebman said, during the events, as many as three dozen panicked bulls are chased by riders on horseback down a narrow track filled with hundreds of people – many of them drunk.
“The animals can trample runners, crash into barriers or fall and break their own legs trying to get away,” Liebman said, adding that one of their investigators saw runners “punching and flapping the bulls” at a Florida event.
The risk of getting gored is part of the allure for a lot of people, he said.
"Rodeo bulls perform almost every weekend and have somebody strapped to their back kicking them with metal spurs – that's not considered abuse, rodeos are legal in California," Dickens said.
Animal advocates also started a Change.org petition asking lawmakers to stop the event from coming to Pleasanton. More than 1,700 people signe dup in support.
A photograph from the Great Bull Run event in Houston in January, which the ALDF used as an exhibit in its lawsuit. Photo by Alexis Braun.