Rodeo-style live bull riding is set to resume next month at an Anne Arundel County bar, despite an appeal from a national animal rights organization to end the "gratuitous, cruel activity."
"We're just a local business trying to run an event," Cancun Cantina owner Tony Toskov said.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, based in Norfolk, Va., threatened yesterday to demonstrate against the attraction, which has been staged in a sand pit behind the Hanover bar for the past four years.
The group had criticized the spring-to-fall competition, blaming it, in a letter to the owner last month, for "animal suffering" and patron injuries.
If PETA wants to complain, Toskov said, it should look into national rodeo events and their sponsors, such as the Professional Bull Riders event scheduled for Baltimore Arena on Sept. 21.
The bar is one of only two nightclubs in the United States that feature live bull riding, according to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association in Colorado Springs, Colo. The other is Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, Texas.
PETA sent a letter to Toskov last year after a 21- year-old Naval Academy midshipman was seriously injured at the bar while riding a 1-ton bull named Rock Pile.
Despite PETA's objections, Toskov said he plans to feature bull riding every other Friday from June 29 until Halloween.
PETA animal cruelty caseworker Amy Rhodes said yesterday that she was disappointed with Toskov's decision.
"We were hoping that they would come to the compassionate conclusion," she said. "Since they haven't done that, we will have to bring it to the public's attention more so than we have already." Demonstrations are likely, she said.
"Public sentiment is rapidly moving away from acceptance of the use of animals for fleeting moments of amusement, and a growing segment of the population is making a conscious effort to avoid patronizing businesses whose profits are derived ... from the exploitation of animals," Rhodes said in the April letter, a copy of which was sent by fax to The Sun.
"Surely, Cancun Cantina can and does attract customers on its own merits and can thrive without [the event]," the letter said.
Cancun Cantina has featured bull riding since the summer of 1997. A sign above the bar's entrance reads, "Never seen country like this," and the event has proven popular.
With six bars, a large dance floor and the riding ring, Toskov said his business averages about 1,700 patrons on rodeo nights - 500 more than usual.
'Attacking the wrong people'
Tom Drury, owner of T-Bar D Championship Rodeo in Millersville, which rents bulls to the bar, said PETA is "attacking the wrong people for the wrong reasons" and that his bulls are well-treated.
"My bulls are my babies; I'm probably overprotective of them," said Drury, adding that he dusts their flank straps with powder to prevent chafing. "They're not mistreated - they're healthy. They work one night a week for eight seconds. If it wasn't for people like me taking care of these bulls, they would be hamburger meat."
But Rhodes said that if Drury "truly loved" his bulls, he wouldn't showcase them in riding events.
"It's like saying, 'I love my cats, but I let people ride them and stick painful instruments into them.'"
Rhodes said PETA became aware of the bar's bull-riding attraction in September, after receiving telephone calls and reading newspaper articles after the midshipman's ill-fated ride.
In Rhodes' letter to Toskov in November, she expressed concern about the "extensive physical trauma and psychological terror experienced by the animals." She enclosed a list of rodeo incidents involving animal injuries or deaths, adding, that "although some of these animals are able to survive an event with minor injuries, their only 'reward' is to be confined to await their next 'performance.'"
The letter described the event as "inhumane" and said that the bar could be the target of lawsuits from injured riders.
Riders who manage to stay on a bull for eight seconds win a $500 prize. Participants pay a $25 entry fee and are not allowed to drink beforehand. They must also have a permit to ride from a professional or amateur rodeo association, provide their own equipment and sign a waiver releasing the club and the bull's owner from liability.
The club has not been sued over injuries related to the event, court records indicate.
Pam Minnick, marketing director of Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, said the 20-year-old club has never been approached by PETA about its bull riding.
"It's a way of life here in Texas," Minnick said, pointing out that rodeo is the state sport. She said the bulls are physically and mentally strong and that - unlike their riders - it is rare for the animals to be injured.
A survey conducted last year by the Professional Cowboy Rodeo Association showed that the injury rate for rodeo animals was statistically negligible. Of 71,743 animals tallied, 38 were injured during rodeo events, according to data compiled by on-site veterinarians, the survey said.
In addition to passing rules that regulate the humane treatment of livestock, the association, a rodeo-sanctioning organization, has requirements regarding the equipment cowboys use in the arena, to minimize the risk of injury to the animals. About 30 percent of rodeos in the United States are sanctioned by the association.
Minnick said animal suppliers have been known to pay up to $70,000 in Texas for a bull with a fierce buck, and that "anyone who spends that kind of money is not going to mistreat it."