CASTRO VALLEY, Calif. (KGO) -- The Rowell Ranch Rodeo is kicking off in the East Bay but activists are planning what they hope will be the biggest protest in years over two controversial events.
Animal rights activists see a sea-change in attitudes. They're emboldened by killer whale shows and the Ringling Brothers circus shutting down. So now, they are applying new pressure to stop the rodeo.
With the 98th Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Castro Valley this weekend, the controversy over the treatment of animals is heating up. The main figures are men who have been butting heads for decades, and they view the rodeo in different ways.
Russ Fields is an East Bay rancher who has run the rodeo for more than 30 years. "I raise cattle, livestock. That's what I do. You think I'm going to hurt my investment, my livelihood? There's no way."
Eric Mills is an Oakland activist who has led the charge against the rodeo since the 1980s. "If we did to our dog what we do to a baby calf at the rodeo, people would burn the arena to the ground right now."
Mills was satisfied with the rodeo's animal welfare policies until Fields brought back two events in recent years.
RELATED: Controversy over Rodeo events in Hayward
In "Wild Cow Milking", a lactating cow is chased down and roped by one cowboy, while another tries to capture some milk in a beer bottle to present to the judges.
Russ Fields: "The video they showed of a cow, she went right back there and went to her calf, started nursing. It was no big deal to them."
Dan Noyes: "Do you deny that the animals feel fear?"
Fields: "Nah, I don't think they feel fear. They're an animal, yeah no."
"All of these animals at the rodeo are prey animals and as such, they fear for their very lives when they're ridden and roped and chased and wrestled and thrown to the ground," Mills said. "They think they're going to die."
The men also have very different views of "mutton busting," in which kids hang on to sheep as they leave their gates.
"Mutton busting is a way of getting inner-city kids that are not ranch-raised out here to participate if they want to," Fields told the I-Team.
Mills says the sheep often can't support the weight of the kids and wind up injured. "It's teaching kids that cruelty and mistreatment is okay. It's not."
Mills and his fellow activists failed to get the events banned at a meeting in March of the Hayward Area Recreation and Park District Board -- the lone dissenting vote came from Minane Jameson who wrote in an editorial this week, "The animal activists are right -- the rodeo animal welfare policy is sorely outdated."
The activists are pushing on -- with billboards, an online petition with 108,000 supporters, and the protest Saturday.
The main events, including bull-riding, start Friday night at 7:30 p.m. Mills hopes to have the biggest protest in years at the rodeo on Saturday.
For more information on the rodeo, here is their official page.
To learn more from the animal activists, click here.
To share your opinion on the rodeo, vote here.
Right or wrong? Rodeo debate rages on between activists, organizers