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August 17th / 18th, 2013

"Run-In With the Bulls"

A Dying Bull According to legend, the running of the bulls began more than seven centuries ago in Spain, not as a sporting event, but rather as way for cattlemen to herd their stock through the streets in a speedy fashion: by having crazed residents taunt and run in front of the animals. Later, organizers of bullfights adopted the unique herding technique as a means of getting steers from their holding pens over to the bull ring. Over time, the bull running grew into a weeklong celebration in Pamplona and other Spanish towns. But as the number of participants grew, so too did the number of serious injuries, about 300 per year, including two fatalities since 2003. Last month’s Running of the Bulls saw more than 100 injuries in the first two days, with three men gored in one day alone.

I don’t care how glamorous Ernest Hemingway portrayed the event to be, the fact remains that running with bulls is a stupid, senseless, cruel and dangerous activity. It’s just a good thing that we here in America don’t allow it. Check that.

Last week, Rob Dickens, co founder and promoter of the Great Bull Run, announced that he was organizing a nationwide tour of bull runs, beginning with next week’s spectacle at the Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie County. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, 5,000 people have already signed up to run with the dozen or so horned animals. Runners pay $50 to $60 for the privilege of being trampled and gored, while their spouses can watch for $10, and their children can view the carnage for free.

Unfortunately, the Aug. 24 event may not be a one-time thing. According to Dickens’ website,, the bulls will then travel to nine other venues from coast to coast between now and July of next year. As an animal lover, I was encouraged to hear that the Humane Society is calling upon the USDA to investigate the bull run. Humane Society Senior Director Ann Chynoweth told Newsfeed.that events like these “put the health and safety of both humans and animals at risk, without the required federal oversight.”

On his website, Dickens invited members of the press to e-mail him with any inquiries (he doesn’t accept phone calls), so I sent him three questions:

  1. What state or local agency issued the permit for your event?
  2. If an injunction is granted to halt the event, will you refund money to participants?, and
  3. What steps, if any, have you taken to ensure the safety of the bulls and the runners?

Mr. Dickens replied promptly, but refused to answer the first two questions “until all legal proceedings have been concluded.” He then answered my third question by saying, “We cannot ensure anyone’s safety, nor would we want to. Much like skydiving or mountain climbing, it’s the risk of serious harm that draws people to it.” Now there’s an admirable sentiment.

In his defense, Dickens did admit to taking certain precautions. For one, the bulls’ horns will not be “filed to razor sharp points,” nor will he use “hyperaggressive fighting bulls who have been trained to seek out and gore humans.” In addition, the Virginia run will take place on dirt and grass, not slick cobblestone. And, the course will not be walled in by buildings, but instead enclosed with cattle fencing, thus allowing participants to make an easier escape. But saying that the Great Bull Run is safer than the Running of the Bulls in Spain is not a ringing endorsement, nor a particularly comforting thought.

I’m aware that some Virginia politicians have recently lost what was left of their gray matter when it comes to trying to outlaw abortion and oral sex, but I can’t imagine any public official supporting (or granting a permit for) an activity the very purpose of which is to provide a venue for serious injury. Speaking of which, when I pressed Dickens for an answer about the permits, he accused me of being biased against his event, and of trying to “smear” his reputation. I replied as follows: “Yeah, I’m biased against any organized, commercial venture which enables animals and humans to be injured. As for smearing your reputation, I’m sure you do a much better job of that than I.”

But hey, the Great Bull Run is all in fun. That’s why after the event, anyone who survives being gored can celebrate by taking part in the Tomato Royale, an Americanized version of the traditional Spanish food fight. It’s a time to sit around and shoot the bull about how you just escaped the bull. And you can raise a glass (or a tomato) to any of your friends who had to be rushed to the hospital, then shout to the rafters, “I’m hooked on bull.” So is Mr. Dickens.