Second bull run (not the battle) comes to Atlanta

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More than three thousand risk-takers are expected to run with the bulls in Conyers on Saturday in an event inspired by Spain’s famed annual tradition.

Are they crazy? Maybe. But will they be running for their lives? The Great Bull Run’s promoters don’t think so.

“People want real danger,” said Rob Dickens, who started the run with business partner Brad Scudder. The idea is to put people in harm’s way, but to avoid serious injuries and, of course, death, Dickens said.

“Removing all danger is antithetical to the event,” he said.

Crowds of more than 6,000 participants and spectators are expected at Saturday’s Great Bull Run in Conyers. The festival includes several short runs with bulls around a quarter-mile dirt track at the Georgia International Horse Park followed by a massive tomato fight.

The Atlanta event is the second in a series of nine planned across the country through July. About 4,000 men and women ran in the inaugural Great Bull Run,which drew more than 12,000 spectators to the Virginia Motorsports Park in Dinwiddie County, according to newspaper reports.

Dickens and Scudder had the idea for a series of domestic bull runs when they ran into difficulty trying to get to the traditional Spanish run last summer.

“You have to book everything a year in advance, and its so expensive,” said Dickens. “On top of that you’d have to have about 10 days off of work, which most people can’t do. We realized there are a lot of people who probably really want to do this but can’t.”

The series has also drawn the attention of animal rights groups

“Exploiting animals for entertainment is just cruel,” said Alicia Woempner, special projects manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “This bull run is a throwback to a time when people knew nothing about animals and abused them for fun.”

The 40 bulls running in Saturday’s event are rodeo bulls, not the Spanish Fighting Bulls infamous for goring and ramming at the Pamplona run. Those bulls are much more aggressive, and their horns are filed to razor sharp tips, said Dickens.

Dickens’ bulls, which come from a free-range ranch in Kentucky, are “big and mean enough but they are not going to go out of their way to hurt someone,” he said. “But, if you are in their way they will bowl you over.”

The event is scheduled to begin with the first run at 11 a.m. Runners will line the sides of the circular dirt track, enclosed by cattle fencing. Handlers will release 18 bulls per run from a pen along the course and will corral them back in once the lap is completed. The run should only last about two minutes, Dickens said.

“Most people hang out by the fences and allow everything to pass them by,” he said. “Once you are out there in the middle of the track, that’s where it gets dicey for the runners.”

Those who choose to run can also seek quick shelter in one of the nooks in the fencing positioned throughout the course.

PETA’s Woempner compared the bull run to the chaos of a panicked crowd of a soccer stadium.”There’s no way to make bulls run without frightening them,” she said. “These animals are simply panicking and running out of fear.”

The Georgia Animal Rights and Protection Group issued an online petition asking the director of the horse park to cancel the event. The petition has reached 4,000 signatures.

The run’s promoters are concerned for the safety of the bulls as well, but Dickens refutes the groups’ claims of animal cruelty.

“They are just running from Point A to Point B,” he said. “We’re not whipping the bulls to run, they are trained to run. They like to run any chance they get.”

No animals were injured at the Virginia event, though two people were taken to a hospital.

“Each bull is worth about $10,000,” Dickens said. “From a business standpoint and an ethical one, the last thing we want is to unnecessarily injure any animals.”