Rob Dickens always thought running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, would be quite the adventure.
Getting to Spain to match wits with unleashed bulls never worked out, but undeterred, Dickens and his business partner, Brad Scudder, who specialize in extreme running events, decided to bring a version of Spain’s tradition to the United States.
“We’ve tried to mimic what they do in Pamplona,” Dickens said Tuesday.
Their Great Bull Run has scheduled nine events across the country, starting Aug. 24 in Petersburg, Va., and including a stop Feb. 1 at the Little Everglades Ranch in Dade City.
Already, though, the event, which features human participants running with and dodging bulls — and their horns — has caught the attention of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which this week called on Little Everglades Ranch to drop its participation.
That’s not going to happen, the ranch’s owners said.
PETA is in the process of contacting the other venues as well, PETA spokeswoman Carrie Poppy said.
“It’s cruel and dangerous,” she said. “It puts people and animals at risk.”
Dickens said he doesn’t expect the animal-rights group’s efforts to affect the event at any of the nine locations.
“PETA represents a very, very small minority of people in the United States and the rest of the world,” Dickens said.
He said he respects PETA’s efforts to protect animals but said the group is out of step with the rest of society when it tries to eliminate the use of animals in any form of entertainment.
He vowed that the bulls would not be abused and that a large-animal veterinarian will be on-site to monitor their health. Other precautions are being taken, too. In Pamplona, the bulls run on cobblestone streets, but for the Great Bull Run they will be on a dirt track, which is less likely to lead to injuries, Dickens said.
There will be eight runs at each venue, but the same bulls won’t be involved in every run.
“We really do take their health seriously,” Dickens said.
The Great Bull Run will be a daylong festival featuring a large-scale tomato food fight dubbed the “Tomato Royale,” live music, games and food.
The other locales are Atlanta; Houston; Lake Elisnore, Calif.; Dallas; Shakopee, Minn.; the San Francisco area; and Chicago.
Tickets will range from $50 to $120 for runners, $25 to $45 for Tomato Royale participants and $30 for spectators.
To run with the bulls, participants must be at least 18 and sign a waiver.
“Running with the bulls is a misnomer because bulls run much faster than people,” Dickens said.
What actually happens, he said, is that people arrange themselves along the track — or the streets, in the case of Pamplona — and wait for the bulls to come to them. Then the people run with the bulls as long as they can, “until the bulls leave them in the dust,” Dickens said.
As in Pamplona, 12 bulls are used for a run, but they aren’t all released at once. Six bulls are released initially, followed about 15 seconds later by the other six. The Great Bull Run track will be a quarter-mile long. In Spain, the bulls run half a mile.
Up to 1,000 people will be allowed to participate in each run. Precautions also are taken to help people avoid injuries, Dickens said. The track is fenced, and there are nooks in the fence that runners can step into to escape the bulls. People also can slide under the fence or climb over it.
In a letter to Little Everglades Ranch, PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman expressed skepticism that the event can be operated safely.
“No matter how cautious the organizers may appear to be, there is no way to be sure that the animals won’t suffer or become injured at these events,” Reiman wrote.
Ranch owners Sharon and Bob Blanchard responded Monday that the event will go on, but they assured Reiman that care will be taken with the bulls.
“Our facility is well equipped to handle the bulls while they are on our property, as we have safe cattle pens with plenty of grazing and fresh water for all our animals,” the Blanchards wrote.
Opposition also has developed on Facebook, where bull-run opponents created a page titled “Halt the Great Bull Run.”
The page was created April 3 and so far has 50 “likes.”
By comparison, Dickens noted, the Great Bull Run’s Facebook page has more than 20,000 “likes.”
“They realize we are not abusing the bulls,” he said.