The Merced County Sheriff’s Department has launched an animal cruelty investigation into the area’s bullfighting organizations after confiscating dozens of spears used to stab the bulls at a Monday night event for the Turlock Pentecost Association.
No arrests have been made at this time, but Sheriff Vern Warnke cautioned the investigation is still in the early stages.
“This will not be tolerated here,” Warnke said.
Bullfights were banned in California in 1957, with the exceptions being for bloodless events that are linked to religious festivals. In a bullfight the matador uses a bandarilha, which is a stick with a sharp end that is used to puncture the bull and tire it out. In a bloodless bullfight the bandarilhas are not supposed to be sharp, but instead have a Velcro covering. The bandarilhas stick to a Velcro blanket draped over the bull.
“Were all for that,” Warnke said of the bloodless events used as religious celebrations. “What we are not for is the impalement of any animal with these items.”
At Monday’s event sheriff’s deputies found dozens of the bandarilhas that had nails poking out of the end and covered with the Velcro. The majority of the spears had nails about two and a half inches long.
“When they are trying to convince you it doesn’t hurt the animal, I beg to differ,” Warnke said.
The investigation began when Warnke got an email from the San Joaquin Sheriff, who informed him a trusted source had information that these spears were being used at the Stevinson Pentecost Association’s bullfighting arena, which was being used for an event by the Turlock Pentecost Association. The matadors are hired for the events and the bulls are rented.
The sheriff’s department had deputies and a sergeant at the bullfight for security, and the sergeant was able to launch an investigation at the scene. Warnke said the deputies confiscated dozens of the spears, which some of the bullfighters tried to hide. The events announcer told the crowd of 4,000 to 5,000 that the items had been confiscated and that the bullfight might have to be canceled. The event did continue as planned, except for one feature called the suicide squad. In this event a group of men grab on to the bull as it charges at them.
“I support anybody’s freedom of religion and to practice their culture, but they have to obey the laws of the state and we have to protect our animals,” Warnke said.
Investigators went to inspect the bulls used at Monday’s event on Tuesday, but were told they had all been sold.
“The disturbing part is that the owners of the bulls knew these spears were being used,” Warnke said.
Warnke said he plans on taking an active role in the investigation and will accompany a brand inspector as they check the various bulls used for the events. He also said he will require all future events have a veterinarian at the scene and that all the bulls be inspected after leaving the arena.
The sheriff’s department had heard allegations of animal cruelty at the bullfighting events for several years, but had been unable to find any evidence to back up the claims.
“They covered it for years,” Warnke said. “They pulled the wool over our eyes.”