Monterey County SPCA does not speak up, either
SALINAS, California––The 2019 California Rodeo Salinas ended on July 19, 2019, but the stench of manure––bovine, equine, and canine––lingers on above the Salinas Sports Complex.
The Monterey County District Attorney’s Office, headed since January 2019 by longtime California Rodeo Salinas volunteer Jeannine Pacioni, reportedly recently rendered but did not publicly announce a decision to not prosecute what appears to have been a flagrant example of classic medieval-style bull baiting.
The alleged bull-baiting occurred in the center ring of Salinas Sports Complex, before hundreds of spectators, as one of the closing acts of the 2019 California Rodeo Salinas.
Videotaped by SHARK
The bull-baiting display, not on the official California Rodeo Salinas program, was videotaped by Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK).
SHARK hidden cameras later turned out to have captured similar incidents of alleged bull-baiting after California Rodeo Salinas performances earlier in the week.
Bull-baiting was banned in Britain in 1835, and has since been banned in most of the developed world. Bull-baiting has been banned in most of the U.S. for 100 years or longer.
What the video showed
The SHARK video, posted at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prgX7QtdrvA, showed six bulls––who had just been run hard by rodeo clowns in a much smaller adjacent pen––gathering quietly by themselves near the gate through which they had entered the arena when first unloaded from trucks, before being teased by the rodeo clowns in the smaller adjacent pen.
The bulls would later exit through that gate, but not before being run hard again, several of them suffering visible injury.
Abruptly the bulls were charged by a mixed pack of five dogs, including at least one boerboel, a Catahoula leopard dog, two probable boerboel mixes, and a small terrier who tried to push the bulls toward the big dogs, away from the gate.
The big dogs, especially the boerboel and the Catahoula, lunged again and again at the bulls’ faces, biting and sometimes drawing blood.
Repeatedly the bulls tried to reassemble near the gate. Over and over the dogs snapped and bit, keeping the bulls at bay.
Sheriff’s Department & Highway Patrol participate
Non-enforcement of apparently applicable humane laws has been problematic at the California Rodeo Salinas for decades. Mounted Monterey County Sheriff’s Department and California Highway Patrol units are themselves participants in the California Rodeo Salinas opening parades.
The Monterey County SPCA, founded in 1905, calls itself “The Heart of Animal Rescue and Protection,” yet ANIMALS 24-7 has discovered no record of the Monterey County SPCA ever prosecuting, or even attempting to prosecute, California Rodeo Salinas participants for anything.
Neither is there any apparent record of the Monterey County SPCA ever even speaking out against any practice of the California Rodeo Salinas.
But bull-baiting has been explicitly illegal in California since 1957.
“Misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment”
The California law, reinforced since then, now stipulates that bull-baiting is a “misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed one year, by a fine not to exceed ten thousand dollars ($10,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.”
Since the current language expressly includes a prohibition on worrying bulls, as well as on causing bulls to fight, either with each other or with other animals, the California Rodeo Salinas exhibition that SHARK videotaped appears to have been wholly illegal.
Promptly sending a copy of the video to the Monterey County SPCA, SHARK heard nothing in response for 50 days. Finally, on September 10, 2019, SHARK founder Steve Hindi inquired of Monterey County SPCA humane investigations supervisor Captain Martin Opseth, formerly a Monterey County Sheriff’s Office detective, if there had been any developments.
“Thank you for the video”
Responded Opseth, “The DA’s Office reviewed the report and will not be filing any charges at this time. Thank you for the video.”
Emailed Hindi, “The video speaks for itself. The injuring/worrying of a bull by dogs clearly violates California law. Will the SPCA do anything further to push for charges, or will the SPCA simply accept this flagrant case of abuse and miscarriage of justice?”
Replied Opseth, “We submit cases to the DA’s Office. They have the final say on whether or not if they want to pursue criminal charges. The SPCA for Monterey County is not a state, local or federal law enforcement agency. There are several other state, local and federal law enforcement agencies that might be able to further assist you. California Penal Code Section 597.5(c)(1) allows the use of dogs for herding livestock. The DA’s Office noted this section in their response and further explained that it would not be able to prove criminal intent, so at this point my office is not pursuing the matter any further.
“Only so much Monterey County SPCA can do”––but what has it done?
“I can truly appreciate that you are frustrated with this outcome,” Opseth said. “However,” Opseth concluded, “there is only so much our organization can do. Again, I thank you for bring this matter to our attention.”
As Hindi noted, the applicable California law explicitly prohibits the action of injuring or worrying a bull with dogs as a part of any public event. The action itself is prohibited, “whether for amusement or gain or otherwise.”
Intent, in other words, is immaterial.
There is an exemption for actions at a rodeo “necessary to the safety of participants,” but the six bulls standing quietly in the ring by themselves posed no threat to anyone when the dogs were set upon them, and even avoided injuring the dogs, who were injuring them.
How to tell herding from baiting
The difference between bull-baiting and herding trials is meanwhile both self-evident and made clear by the rules of herding competitions.
Herding dogs try to round up and move a group of animals as rapidly as possible to a fixed point, usually a small corral, and get them to go inside. If the herding trial includes “cutting,” one of the herded animals will be singled out before the rest are corralled.
Authentic herding dogs drive from behind and the sides, running to the front of the herd only to turn them. Herding dogs may bark and nip at the herded animals’ heels, but do not lunge to bite the animals’ faces, or bite and hold on, as the dogs in the SHARK video sometimes did, preventing the bulls from turning and moving toward any particular destination.
“When is enough enough?”
Fumed Hindi at Ospeth’s email, “The SPCA has a mission. While you do not have the power to force a prosecution, those of you working at the SPCA have mouths, and a standing in the community. We have brought other issues to the SPCA in the past, and never once has your organization taken action. When is enough enough?
“When we sued the rodeo a few years back,” Hindi recalled, “we received documents that showed the rodeo actually relies on the SPCA to back them up when they get heat for cruelty. If anyone at all cares about animals in your organization, how can you possibly go in for that?
“Your organization can speak up, and that is the very least that should happen. Do it for the animals. Do it for yourselves,” Hindi finished.
Green light to baiting anywhere in California
The inaction of the Monterey County District Attorney’s Office and Monterey County SPCA has implications going well beyond the California Rodeo Salinas. That Monterey County district attorney Jeannine Pacioni believes the actions that SHARK videotaped to be un-prosecutable tends to give the green light to bull-baiting guised as “herding” anywhere in California, despite the explicit intent of the California state legislature to make bull-baiting illegal and keep it illegal.
But the Pacioni decision to not prosecute and the Monterey County SPCA public silence on the subject maintain a 185-year history of the county as a bastion of bull-baiting, first reported as such by U.S. Army officer, explorer, and fur trapper Benjamin Bonneville in 1834.
The Bonneville account was affirmed in most details by writer/sailor Richard Henry Dana in his memoir Two Years Before the Mast (1840).
The California Rodeo Salinas under the present name began in 1911. Media releases distributed by the California Rodeo Salinas itself promised bull-baiting and bullfighting, along with all the other standard rodeo events, at least as early as 1919 and as late as 1948.