For centuries, each July 7, people have run alongside panicked bulls in the narrow streets of Pamplona, Spain. This is done to honor St. Fermin, the patron saint of the city, located in the northern Basque region.
Maybe we need to rethink this.
Some disclaimers here, I am not an animal rightist and I have many Basque friends. We’ve never discussed the matter. I’m a Hemingway fan and that includes his 1926 classic, “The Sun Also Rises,” which is where all the crazy drunk people from around the world got the idea to run with the bulls.
The running of the bulls began — as most such things do — as a practical matter; how does one get bulls from corrals that are a half mile from the bullfighting ring? Herd them through the streets and have people gently haze them from anything but their intended route of travel. Sometime in the 1800s, a few people started jumping into the fray and running replaced a husbandry walk.
Another disclaimer, I have been to bullfights and did not find the resulting death particularly cruel; however, the stuff leading up to it was arguable.
St. Fermin, like many saints was martyred. It is thought his death was because of one of the last great persecutions of Christians by the Romans. Think hungry lions and a huddled mass of people praying in the center of the Coliseum. Yet another disclaimer, I was raised in a Catholic household.
Honoring St. Fermin is supposed to happen in October, but the weather got too bad to help with participation. Then, the running of the bulls was moved to September and in 1592, the people of Pamplona moved it to July. Now it happens every day for nearly a week.
My guess is pretty soon one will be able to find a commercialized running of the bulls in and around Pamplona on any given day with a schedule available online. Think of the now constant Mardi Gras celebration on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Tuesdays, saints and saviors. Here, let me show you how we make hurricane cocktails in a slushy machine.
So what about the bulls? First off, cattle will panic just like other animals and people. One of the first things that gets their concern is when their footing is unsure. Narrow pavement and cobblestone streets are examples.
Next comes noise. The run is started each day with the firing of explosive missiles, after which the crowd noise swells and builds.
Then there is unusual motion, particularly in certain parts of their field of view. Crazed, drunken people wearing primarily white with red scarves who flap their arms and scream loudly ups the amperage of the panic.
Finally comes touch. Cattle are herd animals and usually herd mates touching one another’s sides is a calming influence. People in the so-called running poke and strike the animals with sticks, slap their bodies and often grab their heads, horns and ears, all of which is both cruel and unnecessary.
By contrast, think of Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho, and the Trailing of the Sheep. This is ranked as one of the top-10 festivals in the world by MSN. No panicked animals, lots of fun, a healthy culture base related to five saints who are the patrons of shepherds, and no gorings.
Speaking of gorings, I actually appreciate when the bulls in Pamplona get their due and either gore or trample one of the foolish people running with them.
Just stop already.
Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine, which provides this column as a community service. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.