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In the early 2000s, Cooney says, the local humane society became aware of his classes and began showing up at practices to videotape the training.

“They brought all of their evidence that they collected to the district attorney, with the position that we were violating [Section] 597m of the penal code, which is a law that was put together in the 1970s to protect the right of the Portuguese community to have bloodless bullfights.”

The law states that it is illegal to “promote, advertise, stage, hold, manage, conduct, participate in, engage in, or carry on any bullfight exhibition,” though it does contain a specific exemption for bloodless fights conducted as part of larger religious festivals or ceremonies, generally conducted in the Portuguese community. The law does not address bullfight training, and the district attorney declined to prosecute the case.

“Now, we get the occasional foul-mouthed email from someone that stumbles on our website or sees us on TV,” explains Cooney. “This [petition] is a little different, because of Facebook.

“One of our students won a prestigious competition in Spain for amateurs,” Cooney continues, explaining the reason for the latest round of exposure for his academy. “I’m getting, like, 50 emails a day, which is not a big deal. It’s free expression, as far as I’m concerned. If they don’t like bullfighting, they have every right to protest it.”

But protest sometimes crosses the line into profanity and threats, as happened in an email Cooney received from Rick in Eureka, California (who provided his full name and address.) “THE PEOPLE will hunt you down and stick swords in YOUR back until you die a slow and painful death. It is what you sick, piece-of-[expletive] scumbags deserve. Leave the planet on your own accord, or THE PEOPLE will help you on your way.”

This is the relatively clean portion of the correspondence — Rick uses considerably harsher language in the remainder to express how he really feels. But Cooney feels not only is the hate expressed toward him misguided, so is Sibinovic’s petition itself.

“The whole idea that they’re going to shut us down” is wishful thinking, Cooney believes. “I don’t mind, but it is kind of irritating.”

Still, Sibinovic is pushing on, having gathered over 23,000 of the 25,000 signatures she’s seeking.

“I am heartened to see that in many of the petition comments signers have either canceled visits or have vowed to take San Diego off their destination list for future business and vacation travel until officials take a hard look at Cooney’s ‘school’ and shut him down.”

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