Department of Ag: Great Bull Run organizers have not filed for needed permits

CONYERS — The state Department of Agriculture has said that organizers of The Great Bull Run have not filed for the requisite permits for the event to be held next weekend at the Georgia International Horse Park.

According to Mary Kathryn Yearta, communications director for the Department of Agriculture, any show that involves livestock must obtain a show exhibition permit. Included in this permitting process is that organizers must show that they meet all animal health rules regarding those animals that are brought into Georgia.

“The organizer of The Great Bull Run has not yet applied for a permit with us and they have to do so in order have their event,” Yearta said on Friday.

She said the Department of Agriculture tries its best to work with all organizers of such events, but they ask that they obtain the permit 21 days in advance of the event.

If a permit is not submitted and approved by the date of the event, Yearta said state inspectors will be present to make sure the event is not held.

Rob Dickens, chief operating officer with The Great Bull Run LLC, said on Friday there had been a misunderstanding of the permits that were needed, but the proper forms will be submitted on time.

“I have been on the phone with Dr. (Robert) Cobb, the state veterinarian, and I will be submitting the forms today, so we will be permitted to hold the event,” he said.

Dickens said that he had submitted in August via email to the State Veterinarian’s Office what he believed to be the requisite form to transport livestock into Georgia.

He said that he had all the other necessary forms required by the USDA.

“There is no reason that we should not have our event as scheduled. This is really a technicality at this point,” Dickens said.

On Thursday, the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted a letter to Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black and State Veterinarian Robert Cobb petitioning the Department of Agriculture to “take immediate action to protect public health and animal welfare by ordering the Great Bull Run Company to cancel its scheduled exhibition.”

The ALDF claims that by not obtaining the proper permits, the Great Bull Run Company has violated state statutes and regulations for the exhibition of livestock, which in turn, violates “the public health and safety requirements for interstate movement of livestock in Georgia,” the letter states.

“First, we were alarmed at the idea of this event,” said Jessica Blome, staff attorney for ALDF. “We don’t think that innocent bulls should be put in any arena in any event, but when we realized that the company had ignored state rules, we sent a letter to the Department of Agriculture and a second letter to the city of Conyers and the county of Rockdale, the entity that owns the horse park, to make sure they knew that a company they entered into a contract with was not complying with state laws for interstate movement of livestock.”

Blome said ALDF is prepared “to take any legal action necessary to cancel the event up to and including filing a lawsuit.”

She said her group is prepared to file a lawsuit against the state for a writ of mandamus, which is asking that the state enforce its own laws.

Blome said ALDF would also be prepared to file a taxpayer grievance lawsuit against the city of Conyers for allowing an unpermitted event to take place that could cause great injury to others.

David Spann, chief operating officer with the city of Conyers, which owns the Georgia International Horse Park, said on Friday he was not aware there was an issue with permitting for The Great Bull Run, but said the city makes sure that any kind of event that is held at the horse park complies with all state, federal and local laws.

The Great Bull Run is scheduled to take place Saturday, Oct. 19, where participants will have the opportunity to experience the thrill of the traditional running with the bulls as in Spain, without the same level of danger, according to organizers. The Great Bull Run will take place along a 1/4-mile course constructed of barricades in the Grand Prix Stadium.

A combination of 36 bulls and steers will be brought to the event and the bulls and steers will run in shifts. Each bull or steer is only allowed to run the course twice. Dickens has coordinated large-scale events for several years, like the Rugged Maniac 5K Obstacle race held at the horse park in August. In an earlier interview, he said the Great Bull Run is the first time he has organized an event involving animals, so he has partnered with a rodeo company with more than 60 years of bull-handling experience.

The inaugural Bull Run was held in August at Virginia Motorsports Park in Petersburg, Va.

This is not the first time The Great Bull Run has come under scrutiny by animal rights organizations.

In August, Georgia Animal Rights and Protection contacted a number of Conyers officials and started an online petition seeking to have The Great Bull Run canceled.