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Cal Poly rodeo: A protest and a defense 

A new animal rights group plans to protest Cal Poly's rodeo event on April 18. Animal Perspective is a budding group of local activists who say they're hoping to bring attention to what they call poor treatment of bulls and steers in rodeos.

Polly Mertens, a Cal Poly graduate and member of the newly formed group, said that the leaders opted to start their own group rather than associate themselves with an existing group, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"Sometimes people hear PETA, and they automatically get a bad taste in their mouth," Mertens said, adding that PETA, known for in-your-face tactics, can sometimes turn people off.

"We don't want to stand against things," Mertens continued. "We want to stand for animal rights."

Animal Perspectives is expecting 10 to 20 people to participate in the protest, which they said will be peaceful. Mertens said the group opposes such practices as shocking animals to make them more aggressive. But she said the group also opposes the basic rodeo institution of buying, selling, and using animals for profit. She said the cruelty is built-in.

"It's just not natural," Mertens said. "Cows and bulls don't naturally walk around bucking and running."

Cal Poly's rodeo coach, Tony Branquinho, thinks they do.

Branquinho said he's been involved in rodeo his whole life. He's been coaching the sport at Cal Poly since 2006, and said organizers don't use any kind of electrical shock to get the animals ready to go.

"It's actually a very natural progression," Branquinho said of finding animals to use in rodeo.

Basically, cows and horses are bred for more aggressive traits, and behaviors like bucking are encouraged. The animals are trained for it, he explained, and treated like working animals.

"There's no shocking in the chute to get them ready to perform," Branquinho said, addressing one of the most common complaints leveled at rodeos.

"It's kind of like how a football player gets ready," Branquinho said. "The bulls know what time it is. When they're being unloaded from the trucks, it's time to do their job."

Mertens said the group plans to attend other rodeos in the area in the future.

"We just want people to understand that there is an alternative," she said. "We're here to stay, and we're not going anywhere."

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