The rhetoric was plentiful but mostly one-sided at the Woodside Town Council meeting Tuesday night as the public weighed in on the future of the pig scramble, a controversial element of the annual junior rodeo held July Fourth and hosted by the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County at their Kings Mountain Road grounds.
Members of the Committee for a Humane Woodside and other opponents of the event held sway during an hour of discourse as speaker after speaker got up to urge the council to end the spectacle of 30 to 50 children seeking blue ribbons or their equivalent as they chase about a dozen small pigs around the Mounted Patrol's dusty arena. The event is cruel to the pigs and a disservice to the morals of impressionable children, they said.
"Our cultural values are in question," resident Donna Calia said. "An inference can be made that Woodside condones the pig scramble. ... What we allow to happen in Woodside is a reflection of our cultural values."
The notion that banning the pig scramble would be an attack on the cultural values of the Old West – as alleged by the Mounted Patrol many times in its statements – is absurd, Ms. Calia said.
Different species should be treated with the kindness they deserve, said resident Julian French.
Kim Hunter of Los Altos, putting herself in the frame of mind of an 8-year-old, said that pig scrambles would be cool, but that she doesn't now think that way. "What's happened, folks, is I grew up," she said. "It doesn't make any sense anymore. What we condone for our children, we condone for our society."
The council listened, but only Councilman Daniel Yost showed an interest in having staff look at options that would place limits on the event. There wasn't a formal vote, but the other three members present – Mayor Tom Livermore, Councilman Chris Shaw and Councilwoman Anne Kasten – indicated a preference for taking no action, arguing that attempting to ban a legal activity was outside of their portfolio. Opponents of pig scrambles should take up their complaints with the state Legislature, the council members said.
Councilman Peter Mason and Councilwoman Deborah Gordon recused themselves from the discussion before it began, Mr. Mason because the bookkeeper for his architectural firm is a member of the Humane Woodside committee, and Ms. Gordon because she lives near the Mounted Patrol grounds. Councilman Dave Tanner was absent.
Independence Hall could not have held many more people than had gathered there for the 7:30 p.m. meeting, and it was not difficult to tell who was who.
Opponents of the pig scramble seated themselves on the right side, until the seats ran out. Many wore white T-shirts that read, "I am not a toy," above an image of a pink pig, with the one-sentence manifesto "No animal scrambles in Woodside" running along the bottom.
Opponents spilled over to the left side of the room as well, where Patrol members gathered in their white uniform shirts, a few complemented with red bandannas. Some brought cowboy hats. Nearly all remained silent. The Patrol captain, Victor Aenlle, and one other Patrol member spoke after most of the opponents had had their say.
The pig scramble "is an event the people just enjoy," Mr. Aenlle said. "We don't think of it as cruelty." If the Patrol is not breaking any laws, they should be left alone, he said.
The pig handlers, who are not Patrol members, may treat the pigs roughly – "It doesn't look good to us," Mr. Aenlle said – but Patrol members themselves do not mishandle the pigs, and the Patrol admonishes the pig handlers every year to handle the animals gently, Mr. Aenlle said.
(A video of the 2016 event shows pigs chosen for the third round of being chased trying to climb back in their trailer and being tossed back out, sometimes with seemingly little regard for how they land. The video also shows handlers holding the pigs in ungentle ways.)
Another Patrol member -- a farmer, he said – told the council that he fishes and hunts and rides a mule, something the mule probably doesn't like, he said. "You think the fish likes a hook in its mouth?" he asked.
Regulation of the pig scramble would be improper and run counter to "accepted practices," he said. "If you're opposed to the rodeo, don't come," he said, to scattered applause and whoops of appreciation by pig scramble proponents.
Outside Independence Hall, veterinarian, Woodside resident and co-author of a book on animal cruelty Dr. Bonnie Yoffe spoke with the Almanac. "Progress takes time," she said when asked for her reaction, adding that she was "deeply disappointed" by the council's decision.
The council abandoned its responsibilities, she said.
Thinking globally and acting locally failed this time, she said. The next target for protest will likely be this year's rodeo. Committee members have also talked with the office of state Sen. Jerry Hill, Dr. Yoffe said.
"We have to regroup and see what we want to do," she said. "We'll definitely try to talk to local people about not going to the rodeo as long as the pig scramble is a part of it."
Were the animals in the scramble dogs or cats, it would be illegal, she said. "Pigs feel terror and pain and fear" and have "rich emotional lives,"she said. "The treatment of these animals in this event is far below pork production standards."
Mr. Aenlle told the council that the Patrol would consider modifications to the event, as urged by the town's Livestock and Equestrian Heritage Committee. But the modifications would not eliminate the kids chasing pigs, Mr. Aenlle said. One suggestion: have the pigs in a corral before the event, presumably so kids could get to know them.
"A kinder gentler pig scramble is an oxymoron," Dr. Yoffe said. "If it's wrong, it's wrong."
"We're not going away," she added. "The society's values have been reflected in the outcry."