CONYERS — An animal rights group has petitioned the city of Conyers to cancel the Great Bull Run that is scheduled to take place in October at the Georgia International Horse Park.
Georgia Animal Rights and Protection has contacted officials with the city of Conyers by telephone and has started an online petition seeking to have the event canceled.
The petition — addressed to Jennifer Bexley, director of the Georgia International Horse Park, Mayor Randy Mills, City Manager Tony Lucas, Conyers Chief Operating Officer David Spann and Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce President Fred Boscarino — states the event is “degrading and cruel” and does not uphold the “principles of equestrian prestige and community ties” upon which the horse park was founded.
“No matter how cautious the organizers may appear to be, there is no way to ensure that the animals won’t suffer or be injured at these events,” the petition states. “After having been loaded onto trucks and herded into an arena filled with thousands of screaming people, the bulls will bolt out of the pen in a state of panic, confusion and terror when the starting gate opens. As they rush through the chute, they can crash into the barriers, fall and break their legs or collide with and injure each other.”
The petition was posted on the group’s Facebook page on Monday, and according to volunteer Alison Mercer, had garnered nearly than 1,400 signatures within 72 hours. The Facebook posting had also been shared 81 times as of Thursday evening.
Mercer also appeared as a guest on WRFG 89.3 FM radio station in Atlanta on Wednesday to speak out against the Great Bull Run.
Mercer said every time a person signs the online petition, an email is sent to the five people it is addressed to. She said the organization’s goal is to have the city cancel the event, and, if not, to dissuade the public from attending.
About 3,000 people have signed up already to participate in the Great Bull Run on Oct. 19 where participants will have the opportunity to experience the thrill of the traditional running with the bulls as in Spain, without the same level of danger, according to organizers. The Great Bull Run will take place along a ¼-mile course constructed of barricades in the Grand Prix Stadium.
Spann said he has received a handful of phone calls from some individuals and groups concerned over the welfare of the animals at the Great Bull Run, but he said that’s common whenever an event at the horse park involves animals.
“We’ve been dealing with this since prior to the (1996) Olympics,” Spann said. “At that time, there was a huge onslaught of concern (over the heat) and the horses were treated likes kings and queens.”
Spann said the Georgia International Horse Park is a rental facility and does not normally make value judgments on the types of events that are held there. He said the city does require promoters to have a minimum of $1 million liability insurance and that all events and event organizers operate in compliance with the law.
Spann said that horse park personnel will be on site at the Great Bull Run to see how the steers and bulls are treated on the site and make sure they are well watered and fed.
Rob Dickens, chief operating officer with The Great Bull Run LLC, said his group has taken “extraordinary measures” to protect the bulls.
For example, this weekend will be the inaugural Great Bull Run event and it will be held at Virginia Motorsports Park in Petersburg, Va.
“We just paid $30,000 to lay down dirt here on the track in Virginia so the bulls don’t have to run on pavement,” Dickens said. “The only reason we did that is so that the bulls don’t get injured.”
He said that a combination of 36 bulls and steers will be brought to each event and the bulls and steers will run in shifts. Each bull or steer is only allowed to run the course twice.
Dickens said the bulls used are specially trained for bull runs by a rodeo company and are accustomed to being around crowds. Furthermore, veterinarians monitor the bulls before and after the runs. Unlike the running with the bulls in Spain, the Great Bull Run is held on grass or dirt to prevent bulls and runners from slipping. Furthermore, the bulls are not killed in a bullfight after the run, but instead are returned to a free-range ranch until the next event.
Dickens has coordinated large-scale events like the Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle Race held at the horse park earlier this month, for several years. He said the Great Bull Run is the first time he has organized an event involving animals, so he partnered with a rodeo company with more than 60 years of bull-handling experience.
As a result, Dickens said, the reaction from animal rights groups across the country to the Great Bull Race has surprised him.
“I have been completely shocked, to be honest with you, because we are not abusing the bulls. We are not hitting them, we are not starving them, they are just running a track,” he said.
Dickens said he believes the animal rights groups protesting his events represent a small number of people.
“They are a very, very small minority — a vocal minority, but very small,” he said.
Dickens pointed out that a similar group to GARP started a worldwide petition against the Virginia event and garnered about 2,000 signatures.
“Our Facebook page has almost 70,000 followers — and that’s just in the U.S.,” he said. “You can see the difference in the numbers.”
Spann said city officials are keeping an eye on how the first Great Bull Run in Virginia turns out this weekend.
“We’ll have a pretty good idea of how things will go here and we’ve already been talking to the facility officials and local police so we can be prepared,” he said.