Beer, bulls and blood. Oh, and tourists so soused that they can't even pull their pants up after adding another stinking outpouring of urine to the already saturated cobblestones. These have all come together in the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, kicked off this week by both protests and partying.
Participants in any of the 15 days' worth of chasing bulls from holding pen to bull ring every day -- at least those who manage to escape unharmed -- may be too caught up in their own adrenaline rush to give a thought to what happens to bulls at the finish line, but the fact is that the bulls never win the race. They may gouge a man or two as they slip and slide along the way, crashing in panic into the walls during their stampede, but they will soon be as dead as Mr. Hemingway himself who revelled in what he called "death in the afternoon": the corrida.
Is it because they are big and strong and they don't sleep on the bed and kiss our noses that people blithely flip through tour guides announcing that in this Spanish town, men will torture bulls every day for two weeks and they can join in if they like? Not in the evenings, though, when the professionals, the "matadors" (literally "killers"), will amuse the crowd by further harassing the unfortunate animals, spearing them through the back with banderillas so that they bleed to exhaustion, and finally digging a dagger into their spines.
Bulls who are bred to be killed in the ring, like fighting dogs in the basement of a rundown apartment building, will never know freedom. These bulls are denied even the pleasure of grazing on fresh grass or dozing in a meadow. Before and after the run, they are jammed into holding pens, and those who have sustained injuries during the race receive no painkillers or care as they await further assaults. Since their fate is already sealed, food and water are rarely provided. To add to their misery, the bulls are fed laxatives and have heavy sandbags dropped onto their backs to debilitate them before a fight. Some handlers rub petroleum jelly into the bulls' eyes to impair their vision or file down their horns to keep them off-balance. It's the look of bravery that counts, but the reality is outright cowardice.
Because drama is more important than skill, bulls are often still conscious at the end of the fight as their ears and tails are cut off as "trophies" and their broken bodies are dragged out of the ring by horses, unwilling participants in this cruelty, who themselves are frequently gored.
Since the vast majority of Spaniards now condemn this shameful tradition -- Catalonia, widely considered the birthplace of bullfighting, has banned it, as has Spanish national television -- it is tourists from Europe, Australia and America who sentence bulls to death by attending this festival or any of the bullfights. Many report being appalled when they finally witness the savagery that they did not consider in advance -- but by then, it's too late. Every euro spent to buy a ticket to a bullfight helps kill the bulls and keep the hideous spectacle alive.
Bulls can do nothing to demand justice. They can only defend themselves as best they can in a fight with a pre-determined ending and die never knowing why they were forced to endure such a painful and prolonged death. It's up to us, as a civilized society, to call for an end to the Running of the Bulls and bullfighting.
Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1536 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036; PETA.org. Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.
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