bullfighting animal rights matador

Warning: I wasn’t sure whether to write about this or not. This can be upsetting, so please skip or stop reading if you need to.

Last week I had the unfortunate experience of stepping blindly into a bullfighting ring. As I passed by the stadium one day as I wandered the streets of Valencia, I was drawn in by the huge “limited time only!” ads. Showtimes were listed, along with the fighters and bulls’ names.

These shows only happened during the March Fallas festival, and briefly in July, and I happened to be here at this exact time, and from what I could recall, bullfighting is an iconic tradition of Spain, so I thought, “oh, I should definitely go to this!”

I didn’t research it beforehand, nor did I really think deeply about what I was about to see; I only remembered the “Hey, Toro, Toro!” bullfighters I had seen in cartoons or other memes. Naively, I thought it would be the kind of show you would see in zoos, where they trained animals to do cool tricks. I had no idea it would be a spectacle of an animal’s slow and agonizing death.

I felt thoroughly ashamed of how long it took for that realization to set in. The event started with multiple matadors with magenta capes taking turns taunting the bull. They also brought out a rider on horseback, and I was terrified for them as the bull charged towards the horse. The poor horse was blindfolded and surrounded by a cushioned shield, but the bull was still strong enough to lift part of the horse’s body into the air, and probably could have toppled it if it were not offset by the rider using a long rod to keep the bull at bay.

Next, more matadors came out with small thin rods that looked like bowling pins that they attached to the bull’s back (I thought onto its harness, but later to my horror realized they were simply stabbing them into its body!)

Then the finale–the main matador, the one with the red cape, came out. It looked like he had a rod as well which at this point, I still thought, was attaching to the harness, and I was baffled when it disappeared, but I thought it was just hard to see it amongst the other more colorful rods on the bull’s back.

Finally, the other matadors came back out and used their capes simultaneously to cause the bull to run in a circle, before finally settling down on its side. Again, I naively thought this was a trick they had taught it, rather than the more obvious conclusion that it collapsed from exhaustion and was too weak to keep standing, in its final moments of life.

All this didn’t click into place until they delivered the final blow – striking the bull’s spinal cord at its neck with a knife. I sat in shock for a few moments as they dug the knife into its neck, still not understanding what was happening, until the poor animal stopped moving entirely and was dragged across the ring by horses, leaving a bloody trail.

I finally snapped to my senses enough to consult Google. The silver “rod” the last matador held was actually a sword meant to pierce its heart through its back. I then frantically searched if they ever let the animal live, and the answer was almost never. They do send them to slaughterhouses afterwards to make use of the bodies, but that seemed to be such little consolation.

As a meat eater and animal lover, I had always grappled with and carried some guilt about these dichotomous roles. I consoled myself, or rather, excused myself, that the animals I bought and ate were treated humanely and killed swiftly. But when it comes down to it, is that really that much better than torturing an animal slowly “for sport” and making entertainment out of its pain and death, including in front of children?

There was so much cheering and laughter in all the worst moments of those bulls’ lives. Their cries of agony, their increasingly rapid and shallow breaths visibly seen through their heaving chests. One of them started bleeding from its side throughout the entire show. Another one from its mouth after being stabbed with the sword.

The one that made me cry was the one who seemed the least aggressive, kept to itself, barely went for the capes, which I hoped that meant it would be spared. After it was stabbed, it completely ignored the last few capes and didn’t run in a circle, rather it blearily looked for a wall to lean against. It was such a human-like behavior that I couldn’t help the tears streaming down my face.

I imagined being that bull, in so much pain and realizing I was dying and wanting simply to seek some solace, but all I could see were people leaning against the wall leering at me, not a single familiar or compassionate face. It was so horrible. This was a gentle creature who wasn’t trying to attack anyone. Why did they still have to kill it? Why did they have to kill any of them, even if they were aggressive enough for it to be labeled as self defense?

I realize that human casualties sometimes occur as well during these fights. Why even have them in the first place? I know that Spain and many other countries have held this tradition, and are proud of this part of their culture, but many things, such as slavery, were also traditions that have not proven to be humane or worthy of continuation. In fact, bull-fighting was so controversial that it was banned by the region of Catalonia in northern Spain in 2011, only to be overturned in 2016, stating it is an important part of Spain’s national heritage.

It has thankfully improved nowadays in that the number of bullfighting rings and frequency of events have greatly decreased. However, I still do not see why we could not find a way to alter this tradition even slightly, working with, rather than against the animal, the way zoos would train animals for shows.

There must be some middle ground we can achieve that is more humane, and still retain the cultural aspect of the red capes and matadors, if we cannot stop it entirely. Along with hunting for sport and poaching, these practices all seem to disrespect the animal, to not make use of it fully or thank it for what it brings to benefit us humans.

Perhaps I am just drawing an arbitrary line, though, and raising animals in “humane” settings and killing them “humanely” for food are still just as bad. This experience has taught me to reflect more on my beliefs and behaviors. I feel ashamed that I still eat meat, but I have been conscious to greatly decrease the amount over the years, and try to seek out alternatives when possible, such as the amazing Impossible Burger which can hopefully replace beef entirely one day.

Although we don’t fully understand them, I believe animals have souls, feelings, thoughts, and every right to share our planet with us. We are predators, but we don’t need meat to survive. If we do choose to eat meat, we can at least not cause unnecessary cruelty or pain, or carry the belief that it is okay to do so, as if animals are less deserving than we are. In this mysterious universe, we have no idea when dynamics will change, or power will shift. We should always try to treat everyone and everything with respect.


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Who am I?
Hi! I'm Dr. Toni, a carTOONIst. I empower, educate and advocate for women and minorities through my art and coaching, while traveling nomadically. I help others also follow our hearts and live true to themselves, no matter what others say!
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