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A Publication of
Catholic Concern for Animals

Selections From The Ark Number 196 - Spring 2004

The Shame of St Roque

Tony Moore of FAACE, and Matilda Mench of IAC/animal 2ooo, report on their visit last August to some of the Spanish villages celebrating St Roque’s feast

By Tony Moore and Matilda Mench

Pig fiesta

On a baking hot day with the temperatures in the nineties we arrived in the very small village of Chañe, Castilla y Leon, in North Central Spain. We had learnt that, in celebration of St Roque, a pig was to be released onto the streets the following morning.

At one in the morning a disco started in the small main square, which continued deafeningly until dawn. At about 7.30, the pig, a very young female with most of its tail missing, was released on the streets. She was from a nearby intensive pig unit. There was a very strong all-pervading smell from the numerous factory farms in the area. The heat was oppressive and we could not help thinking of all those poor animals packed together when all around were great expanses of open country.

The pig was on the streets until approximately ten a.m. She was kicked repeatedly, had a beer crate thrown at her, and was chased and treated like an object for entertainment, rather than a sentient being. The youths taking part had been up all night drinking at the disco. Some of them were hardly coherent and were not comfortable with our filming. The pig was due to be used again the following morning. She was outside the intensive pig unit for the first time in her life. We were shocked at her state of health and you could clearly see the effects of factory farming on the poor animal. She was unable to walk properly, the bright light was too much for her and she was very frightened, cringeing at any sound or sudden movement. If we had not been non-meat eaters already, we would have stopped eating meat that very day. We were sad to leave her to her fate.

Result Our Spanish partners Asociacion Nacional para la Proteccion y el Bienestar de los Animales (ANPBA) in Madrid have filed an administrative complaint. The mere fact of the pig being used in a fiesta is illegal under the animal law of the province of Castilla y Leon and organisers can be fined up to £6,500. We are convinced that this small village cannot afford to pay fines like this repeatedly. This means that this pig fiesta will have taken place for the last time! [Deo Gracias]

Cat fiesta

The following day we journeyed up to the north of Spain. It poured with rain continuously, although it was still hot, and as the whole of Spain was in fiesta it was nearly impossible to find anywhere to stay. Eventually, after about four hours of searching, we managed to find a place miles from the very small village of Carasa, Cantabria to which we were going.

For 526 years, or so the village says, this fiesta – which involves a cat – has taken place on the 16 August, the feast day of St Roque. Until this year a black cat was captured by the village youths, put into a sack and driven into the town square in a donkey cart accompanied by children in fancy dress. From a stage 2.5 metres high, after speeches about what the cat represented, it was thrown into the crowd who then chased after it with sticks and stones. Whichever direction the cat ran in, was thought to determine the fate of the harvest.

In the village we were the subject of much suspicion and the occasional shout of ‘Get out!’ was directed at us. When I was taking photographs during the fiesta two men deliberately tried to block me. At the crucial point I slipped from behind them, took my pictures, and gave them a little wave. Matilda had managed to follow the procession closely, so we had a good record of the event.

The only activity involving the village church was a group of youths hanging around in the doorway all the day. Whatever they were doing did not seem to have any Christian associations.

Last year a Spanish animal rights group filed an administrative complaint against the village. The law in this region of Spain says that animals must not be used in fiestas if they are going to be hurt or mocked or humiliated.

As a result of this complaint, this year the cat was put in a cat carrier and released on the ground into the crowd. The animal was very obviously terrified and ran for its life.

Result We have been in touch with the village and requested that in future a symbolic animal is used rather than a live one.

Bull fiesta in Roa

We then did the long drive down to the Segovia area. By now the sun was back out and the heat was oppressive. We had decided to investigate a bull fiesta in Roa, Castilla y Leon. There were two things of which we wanted to get evidence. The first was a bullfight performed by bullfight fans, which again took place for the fiesta of St Roque. The bulls used were very young and small. The only knowledge that these youths seemed to have of bullfighting was how to posture and pose. They stuck banderillas (harpoons) into these poor animals, who soon collapsed. Even though the actual killing was only simulated it was a disgusting display. The bulls were killed afterwards out of sight of the public.

The second thing we filmed in Roa was of very young children in the bullring when a cow was let loose for the youth’s ‘entertainment’. The organiser was right in front of us and some mothers were complaining at the large size of the cow. He said ‘Don’t worry, it will be alright.’ The law forbids the active participation of minors in bullfighting spectacles. Yet some of the children we recorded in the ring were babes in arms.

Result Our Spanish partners ANPBA filed an administrative complaint. The village will be heavily fined under both the children’s protection law and the bullfighting law of the province.

Bull fiesta in Peñafiel

Our next St Roque fiesta was at Peñafiel, Castilla y León, just a few miles from Roa. This has a very unusual arrangement for the bullring. The main square is very large with very old buildings and tiered balconies facing into the middle, and are primarily used for viewing the bullfight. Built inside this square is a round ring of only one wooden wall. If anything, this is a little lower than the normal first wall of most bullrings. Consequently the bulls often leap over and into the crowd. This causes a stampede to get behind the upright bars that are conveniently placed under the balconies of the houses.

While we were filming, bulls were jumping out of the bullring into the crowd repeatedly, which made it a little difficult and dangerous for us as the crowd ran for cover. We filmed for two days at this place and after one of the bullfights we waited outside and saw the bodies of the bulls dragged out and dumped into a rubbish skip parked on the road outside. Two hours later they were taken away to be disposed of as just so much rubbish. Because of BSE, if the bulls are to be eaten they have to be butchered under special conditions, and the town decided this would cost too much.

Again we filmed very young children and careless parents and a complaint was filed. Ironically just after this an 11-year-old boy was severely gored by a young cow and a public outcry for more security started.

Our long weekend was over and it was with relief that we headed back to Madrid and home. But our work was not quite finished – we had to get our videos and pictures prepared for evidence against the torturers of the animals.

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