SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Animal rights groups sued "The Great Bull Run" and the rodeo company that supplies it with bulls, claiming they stage dangerous, and illegal, events, in which "as many as three dozen panicked bulls ... stampede down a narrow track" behind hundreds of people, "many of whom have been drinking alcohol."
The Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued The Great Bull Run, a Massachusetts LLC, and Lone Star Rodeo, a Kentucky LLC, in Federal Court.
The lawsuit begins: "This is an action under the California Unfair Competition Law to enjoin the Great Bull Run - a dangerous and unlawful event in which the organizers cause as many as three dozen panicked bulls, each weighing nearly a ton, to stampede down a narrow track at up to 35 miles per hour after up to 1,000 fleeing runners, many of whom have been drinking alcohol. Not surprisingly, participants have been injured at prior Great Bull Run events, and veterinary experts have concluded that the event causes unnecessary suffering and stress to the animals."
"Bloodless bullfights" are illegal in California, as are making a bull fight a human, antagonizing a bull or causing a bull to antagonize or hurt another bull, according to the complaint.
The Great Bull Run has staged four such events this year and plans to hold nine more, including two in California, the complaint states.
It gets the bulls from Lone Star Rodeo's ranch in Kentucky, which transports steers and bulls "thousands of miles back and forth across the country in trailers for each event," according to the complaint.
As many as 3,000 people pay $49 a head to join a Great Bull Run, giving the organizers as much as $147,000 per event - without counting the money from beer and other concession sales, the complaint states.
The bull runs are imitations of Spain's Festival de San Fermín in Pamplona, immortalized in Hemingway's book, "The Sun Also Rises." At San Fermín, the daily running of the bulls is followed by their taunting and slaughter in the bull ring. No such bullfights follow the runs in the United States.
Here, according to the 12-page lawsuit, horseback riders scare up to three dozen bulls with whips to make them charge at "as many as 1,000 people arrayed along a quarter mile track. As the bulls approach at speeds faster than humans can run, the participants try to keep up while avoiding the stampede at their heels. Many runners intentionally run as close to the bulls as possible to provoke them. An eyewitness at the most recent bull run event in Florida reported that several runners taunted and punched the bulls as they ran by."
The events are "inherently stressful" for the bulls, which are frightened and confused by the loud sounds and unfamiliar locales, the animal rights groups claim. Though many of the animals are reluctant to chase the participants and try to run away from the runners, the horseback riders scare them into a stampede, where they are at risk of goring each other or breaking their legs.
People also are hurt: Several runners have been trampled, one man broke his pelvis in three places and others have suffered bruises, deep gashes, internal bleeding and concussions, according to the complaint.
The fact that many participants and spectators are drunk "exacerbates the danger," the complaint adds.
The Great Bull Run acknowledges that "broken bones and bloodshed [are] part of the event," but reduces its liability by making participants sign a waiver acknowledging that the event is a "hazardous activity" that could cause injuries, including permanent disability, paralysis, and death, according to the complaint.
PETA and the Animal Defense Fund say they have spent time and money fighting the bull runs, consulting with veterinarians, researching state and federal animal welfare laws, encouraging public officials to ban the events, and buying tickets so their staff members can attend and film the events.
They want an injunction banning bull runs in California and a declaration that the events violate sections 597b and 597m of the state Penal Code.
They are represented by Cory Allen Evans with Evans & Page.
Great Bull Run's website, checked Thursday afternoon, encourages people to "grab life by the horns" and "run with real bulls" in this "adrenaline-filled experience."
The company claims that 15 people in have died in the 103-year history of the Pamplona bull runs, but does not say how many people have been hurt or killed during its events. It assures people that they have plenty of "safety precautions" such as running on dirt or grass and not having any sharp turns, to protect both runners and bulls during the run.
The bulls are not abused to make them run, have been trained to run the course without colliding with each other, and are not killed after the event, according to the website.
The Great Bull Run's chief operating officer Rob Dickens responded to the lawsuit in an email to Courthouse News: "Any claim that our bull handlers use whips to force the bulls to run is a blatant and intentional lie. We do not hit or strike our bulls in any way whatsoever to make them run. In fact, they've been trained to run our courses without physical provocation. Our professional bull handlers do follow the bulls on horseback to ensure they don't get turned around, but herding animals does not constitute animal abuse under any definition of that phrase."