They ignored me, then they laughed…
Every year during the fiesta in July, bulls are chased down the main street in Dénia and into the sea. This event is called Bous a la Mar. Some of the people taking part will jump into the water with the bull. This is different to the bull run in Pamplona. In Pamplona the bulls are chased down the cobbled streets, rounded up and after mutilation, forced into the arena where they are stabbed to death by the matador. I am very thankful this doesn’t happen in Dénia, but unfortunately in past years, when the bulls reach the water they have broken their legs, suffered heart attacks and even drowned by the participants. Any bull run involves traumatising the animal beforehand, normally by electrocution, lighting their horns on fire or blindfolding and finally the bull is chased by hundreds of people.
Last year I was new to Dénia and avoided Bous a la Mar. This year I assumed I would do the same as I don’t see myself as much of an activist despite my love of animals. My dear friend Harjit repeatedly questioned why I wasn’t doing anything and suggested several ideas to try, one in particular resonated with me: leafletting.
- Write a short explanation of what happens to the bulls before and after an event
- Offer a fun alternative
- Deliver with a smile 😀
If at least one person were to read the leaflet it would be worthwhile.
Wonderful husband made it very clear that he felt uncomfortable about me going around Dénia to hand out leaflets alone (he would be present to ensure my safety but did not feel comfortable participating). Also, my Spanish is quite bad (languages are not my forte) so I would have been no help if someone had a question. Given this, I thought I would ask for help on a local Facebook group.
This could be why people don’t speak up.
Apart from one lovely lady making me aware of the upcoming protest, people made fun of the post and continued to do so after I had taken a screen shot. Dear friend Harjit tried to prepare me as best he could for this type of reaction but I clearly wasn’t ready for it. So dramatic, I know.
In later posts on the same Facebook group, people made accusations such as
- The bulls enjoy it.
We are in dangerous territory when our actions are justified by claiming to know what an animal is thinking.
- As I am not Spanish, I should leave if I don’t like it.
Location should not restrict anyone in voicing their concerns about any type of cruelty.
- Where would Spain get the tourism from otherwise?
I do not claim to be a financial or tourist expert. In a perfect world, I would like Spain to be famous for traditions that were made cruelty-free and child-friendly. Aside from this, money should never be justification to inflict cruelty on an animal.
In the few days after, I wanted to give up but my close family and friends wouldn’t let me. I am very grateful for their support, in particular my mega friend Adriá wrote the most unexpected and encouraging note in a book, ‘To my friend Zoë, the animal protector. Never give up, Adrià.’ This couldn’t have come at a better time.
The support of my friends and family conveniently timed with a new-found support against the bull run on the same local Facebook group. I was very relieved to see a lot more people begin to voice their concerns and because of this, I was ready to take the next step.
I decided not to do the leafletting. I think Wonderful Husband was quite relieved! But now I had come this far, I had to do something to raise awareness for the bulls.
I feel very uncomfortable with the concept of protesting.
My idea of a protest is a gathering of very forthright people, shouting because they think they know best. Lovely Mum and Bestest Dad said that although I felt uneasy about protesting, I had to take a stand. I decided to go to help the numbers… (But stay really quiet in the background). Although I felt anxious, my nerves were calmed when some of my animal-loving friends said they would also be attending the protest. On top of this Wonderful Husband said he would accompany me to ensure I was safe. Dear friend Harjit even suggested that I make a sign, so on a piece of white card I wrote ‘Dénia sin maltrato animal’ which translates as ‘Make Dénia free of animal cruelty’.
On Sunday 10th July 2016 I woke up at 06:00…. My alarm was set for 09:00. I was too nervous to sleep. I had disturbing visions of locals jeering at me. At 09:45, wearing my mega Super Vegan tshirt (by EarthlingWear), I headed to the protest. I was one of the first people to arrive but slowly the crowd began to form and we were ready to begin.
The protest was led by the inspirational animal activist Jeane Feitosa. News cameras flocked around us whilst she read a speech condemning the use of animals in sports and in particular Bous a la Mar. For two hours Spanish and non-Spanish demonstrators stood side-by-side, chanting “La tortura es no cultura” and “Abolicion es la solucion”.
Instead of the expected jeering, the locals would walk past and applaud. Toddlers would walk past with their parents, mesmerised with our brightly coloured signs. I hope that the younger Spanish generation will grow up to fight against animal cruelty, harder than they fight for tradition. The protest ended peacefully and in the following days was featured in several newspapers, all speaking warmly of the demonstration.
I think protesting is a great tool to raise awareness, but I still worry that it could upset more people than convert. Next year I hope to know enough Spanish to be able to give out leaflets, in addition to attending the protest.
I want to thank my close family and friends as I would never have had the confidence to go and do my first protest without their support. I also want to thank the mega people that attended the protest – it’s not easy to stand up for what you believe in. I was close to giving up after the Facebook response. I have learnt that when people choose to make light of the harm done to animals it is outside of my control and I can’t let it get me down. I can only do what I can for the animals, and that means not giving up.
I am ready for the fight.