Bowing to pressure from a national animals rights organization, the owner of an Anne Arundel County bar said last night that he is ending its rodeo-style bull riding in favor of "tropical ambiance."
"I hate to give in," said Cancun Cantina owner Tony Toskov, "but it's in my best interest to call it quits for the summer. Besides, I just planted 150 palm trees where the bull riding was and I'm not prepared to dig them up."
Toskov's decision came a day after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals stepped up its campaign against the return of bull riding at his Hanover nightclub. The Norfolk, Va.-based organization issued an "action alert" on its Web site Tuesday calling on the public to write letters to Toskov protesting such "ridiculous and cruel displays of dominance."
"We're delighted. We felt sure that it would only be a matter of time before he realized that it made good business sense not to exploit animals," said Amy Rhodes, the PETA animal cruelty caseworker who posted the alert. But should Toskov decide to revive bull riding, Rhodes added, "we'll be right there."
Nearly two weeks ago, Toskov had said he would resume the spring-to-fall competition in the outdoor sand pit behind his bar. Cancun Cantina was one of only two nightclubs in the United States that featured live bull riding, according to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association in Colorado Springs, Colo. The other is Billy Bob's Texas in Fort Worth.
Last night, Toskov said his turnabout was the result of PETA's campaign and the logistics of reviving the bull riding event. In the meantime, he said, patrons can enjoy the "tropical ambiance" created by $18,000 worth of palm trees he planted behind the bar last week.
"I wanted to bring Cancun, Mexico, to Glen Burnie," Toskov said. "If we do decide to do bull riding, I'll come out prepared for all the controversy. Right now, we're not going to do it."
PETA's Web-site message alleged that the bulls were "provoked into unnaturally aggressive behavior" by the use of bucking straps that are "cinched tightly around their abdomens or groins."
"Countless animals have surely left the arena with painful and potentially debilitating injuries," the alert said. "There are no state or local laws that mandate that a veterinarian examine the bulls before or after the events, nor is there any oversight of the events themselves."
It urged people to write protest letters to Toskov and to Billy Bob's Texas owner Billy Minnick "that the 21st century is no time for such ridiculous and cruel displays" and to encourage them to "find more humane ways of entertaining [their] patrons."
Rhodes said she hoped Toskov's decision will persuade the owner of Billy Bob's Texas to follow suit.
Tom Drury, owner of T-Bar D Championship Rodeo in Millersville, which rented bulls to Cancun Cantina, said that PETA's allegations are unfounded and that his bulls are well-treated. Drury said he takes precautions, such as dusting his bulls' cotton flank straps with baby powder, to prevent injuries.
"PETA has no clue what they're talking about," Drury said. "We do not tie those bulls' [testicles] up."
Drury said that, just like humans, bulls are ticklish in their flanks and when a rider mounts them, they naturally buck. A Billy Bob's spokeswoman said suppliers have been known to pay up to $70,000 for a bull with a fierce buck.
"Why would anyone injure something they have a lot of money tied up in?" Drury asked.
If PETA wants to complain, Drury said, it should look into stockyards where day-old calves are slaughtered for veal, or into race tracks where 2-year-old colts, whose bones are underdeveloped, are forced to race.
County Animal Control Administrator Tahira S. Thomas said that state animal cruelty laws protect bulls and that her agency visited the attraction last year and found no animal violations.
Pam Minnick, marketing director of Billy Bob's Texas, said the 20-year-old club received a letter from PETA dated May 18 that urged the club to make the "compassionate decision."
"I'm 47 years old, and I've never seen a bull injured in a rodeo," Minnick said. The bulls are physically and mentally strong and - unlike their riders - it is rare for the animals to be injured, she said.
"There are two choices when you're a cow: either be on a dinner plate or in a show," Minnick said. "[PETA] has a right to their cause, but the reality is that the alternative for the bull is bleak."
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 about 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.
But PETA's companion Web site, www.bucktherodeo.com, alleges that PRCA's rules "are worthless; they are rarely enforced, and when they are, the fines imposed on the cowboys are so small as to be meaningless."
The letter-writing campaign was the latest strategy employed by PETA. It first sent Toskov a letter in November, after hearing about a 21-year-old Naval Academy midshipman's serious injuries, which were sustained at the bar while he rode a 1-ton bull named Rock Pile.