When we were kids, we played this game where we would twist a pencil innumerable times into a loop of thread and then let it go, watching with fascination as it spun around at top speed. It was a fun game, but I never imagined that somewhere in the world, the same thing was being done to living creatures.
Brodilovo is a small, remote village in the South-Eastern part of Bulgaria. Here, villagers are so afraid of rabies that they have a centuries-old tradition to ward off the disease. The bizarre ritual involves the spinning of dogs, just like the pencil game, on a rope, hanging over a small stream. It is practiced once a year and is believed to help keep rabies at bay. The process that the dog is put through is quite enough to give animal rights activists nightmares. Dogs are twisted in a rope that is stretched out tautly over, and are then let go. The dogs spin out of control and then tumble into the water below. Since they reach very high speeds, they are often unable to swim when they hit the water. A net is held at the bottom for the animal to fall into, and then helped out of the water.
Sounds pretty cruel doesn’t it? I watched a video of the ritual, and the poor dogs seemed so helpless. The tradition was banned by law in 2006, after pressure from international media in 2005, but that had no effect on the locals whatsoever. They continued with their practice just as before. The weird ritual was finally stopped last year when members of the Animal Rights Sofia group guarded the banks of the Veleka River to make sure that the locals adhered to the law. According to the new guidelines, the locals are permitted to simply throw the dogs in the water so they can swim safely to the other bank. A spokesman for the town’s mayor Petko Arnaoudov admitted that this isn’t exactly ideal behavior, but much better than before. “Some of these traditions have taken root over hundreds of years. You don’t change them overnight. You cannot stop a traditional custom with a simple order.”
Maybe he’s right, maybe this baby-steps method is the best way to go, but cruel traditions like this, the controversial Pigs of God Festival, or the horrific show of Toro Jubilo have no place in this day and age and need to remain in the past, where they belong. The Spanish have managed to replace bloody bullfighting with the more humane sports of bull dallying, so perhaps it is possible to preserve cultural legacy without resorting to barbaric practices.