Editorial: Pig chase is cruel, and sends wrong message to kids | March 15, 2017 | Almanac | Almanac Online |


Viewpoint - March 15, 2017

Editorial: Pig chase is cruel, and sends wrong message to kids

Does an event that allows children to chase down frantically fleeing baby pigs to capture one for a ribbon constitute animal abuse? An equally important question: Do the values imparted to children who participate in such an event reflect the values we want our children to embrace as they find their way in the world?

These questions are the core of an important debate being waged locally, on the Peninsula and beyond. The debate pits the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County, which sponsors an annual "Pig Scramble" during the Fourth of July rodeo in Woodside, against animal welfare groups and a growing number of veterinarians and community members who consider the event inhumane and barbaric.

Several Woodside residents, including a veterinarian, recently formed the Committee for Humane Woodside to advocate for ending the pig scramble, arguing that the chaotic chase causes extreme distress to the animals that are set loose from a trailer, forced into an arena, then are converged upon by a large and noisy group of kids racing to capture them. The committee has circulated a petition, signed by hundreds of people, opposing the event, which we agree is inhumane and barbaric.

If one has any doubt about it, last year's scramble is available on video at tinyurl.com/scram16. Watch it, see how these small animals are harassed — terrorized might not be too strong a word — and listen to their loud squeals and screams as they are captured and carried away by their legs.

In a recent newsletter, the Mounted Patrol's captain challenged the claim that the event is cruel and stressful to the piglets, and asked: "Do (the critics) speak pig?"

Well, no one we know speaks "pig," but there are scientific researchers who focus on what pigs are communicating with their range of sounds; those researchers include animal health, behavior and welfare epidemiology specialist Lisa Collins of the University of Lincoln in England. Dr. Collins has done extensive research on the personalities and emotions of pigs, and according to news reports has determined that the sounds they make "convey a wide range of information such as the emotional, motivational and physiological state of the animal. For example, squeals are produced when pigs feel fear, and may be either alerting others to their situation or offering assurance."

Patrol Captain Victor Aenlle also asserts in the newsletter that the effort to end the pig scramble "is an attack on an American tradition and western culture." The argument that this event reflects Western cultural values rings hollow to those of us who grew up on farms where such treatment of animals would never be considered acceptable — even of those animals ultimately destined for the dinner table.

But it appears the Mounted Patrol has dug in its heels, compelling the committee and others concerned about this annual event to seek other means to end it.

One appeal that must be made is to parents: What are children learning when told it's acceptable to treat another living creature cruelly, as long as they have fun doing so? Pediatric psychiatrist Sujatha Ramakrishna is right on the mark in her letter to the Woodside Town Council, which reads in part: "If (children) are taught that tackling and dragging a squealing pig is 'fun,' they won't understand why pulling a yelping puppy's tail and pummeling a crying boy in gym class are not also 'fun.'"

In the face of the Mounted Patrol's resistance, the committee is appealing to the Town Council, and the council will discuss the matter at a future meeting, probably on March 28, according to Town Manager Kevin Bryant. Although Mr. Bryant has publicly stated that the town could ban the practice, last week he told the Almanac that the legality of a ban isn't clear-cut, and more research must be done.

But first, council members will be asked if they are interested in pursuing a ban, and if the answer is no, the town will drop the question of whether a ban would be legal, and the decision on whether to continue this cruel and harmful event will remain with the Mounted Patrol.

Mahatma Gandhi famously said: "I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man." We hope members of the Town Council take these words to heart and fully explore the town's options in ending the pig scramble. And if the law permits a ban, enact that ban before July 4.


Posted by Lorien French, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 15, 2017 at 12:44 am

Wow. Thank you, Almanac, for lending your voice to those of 150 Woodside residents, hundreds of others locally, thirty Peninsula-based veterinarians, educators, and even animal agriculture professionals who see the pig "scramble" for what it is -- an outdated, inhumane activity that does not meet modern farm animal welfare standards. Further, it does not teach children about the proper care, treatment and handling of animals. In fact, it teaches the opposite. The Livestock Committee in Woodside has already gone on record stating that this activity isn't in keeping with current animal welfare standards and now it is up to the Town Council to act. An immediate ban may not be feasible but the Town Council can easily adopt a resolution condemning animal "scrambles" in Woodside. This would carry some weight and underscore that Woodside is a community that advocates for the humane and respectful treatment of all animals - pigs included. (In fact, pigs are highly intelligent, sensitive animals who can solve puzzles and whose behavior exhibits a complex emotional capacity.) Animals give us so much - they deserve our good stewardship and a quality life free of unnecessary stress, suffering and harassment.

Please contact the Woodside Town Council at council.members@woodsidetown.org to support this effort.

Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2017 at 6:41 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

Time for the Town leaders to say, " No more pig scrambles, or any type of animal scrambles in Woodside!"

Posted by Srini, a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2017 at 12:50 pm

I assume those of you who oppose this event, feel the same way about calf roping at rodeos. I mean, how pathetic is that event?

Posted by Roberto, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 15, 2017 at 1:58 pm

Roberto is a registered user.

This was a common practice, but the times have changed in California. Remember when we were kids and we played tag? In Folsom, at Gold Ridge Elementary School, Principal David Frankel sent out a message on Friday saying: “Students were instructed that physical contact including tag games, touch football, etc. were not allowed on the yard.”
Times keep on changing...

Posted by Woodside resident, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 15, 2017 at 4:57 pm

THANK YOU to the Almanac for this wonderful editorial in support of banning the inhumane, barbaric pig scramble. The jury is NOT out among animal behaviorists, veterinarians, experts in animal husbandry, and even the food production industry, that farm animals deserve humane care; that pigs and other animals, whether they be dogs, cats, horses, or livestock have the ability to feel fear and pain. To inflict this pain for "entertainment" is morally corrupt.
I hope the Woodside Town Council has the moral fortitude to take a stand and move into the 21st century.

Posted by Woodside resident, a resident of Woodside: Mountain Home Road
on Mar 15, 2017 at 5:06 pm

THANK YOU to the Almanac for this articulate editorial against the pig scramble. I hope the Woodside Town Council has the moral fortitude to ban such scrambles in our town and reflect 21st century humane values toward animals. Whether a dog, cat, horse, pig, or other companion or farm animal, they all deserve to be handled and treated with respect and not abused for the sake of entertainment. Let's lead by example and show our kids that bullying, whether towards people or animals, is not OK.

Posted by Pig Scramble, a resident of Woodside: Woodside Glens
on Mar 15, 2017 at 11:49 pm

Please stop the Pig Scramble!!!
It is cruel and inhumane!!
Judi Kiel
Woodside resident
Coldwell Banker
650 799-3241

Posted by Gertrude, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 16, 2017 at 11:49 am

Dear editor: I agree that the pig scramble is cruel and inhumane, sending a message to children that animals are to be used for our amusement, even if it scares them and causes distress.

I wish something would also be done to protect the ducks at the Burgess Park duck pond. I've been observing those ducks for over 10 years when I moved nearby and often walk past the pond. Ten years ago the pond was mostly frequented by wild ducks, with the exception of three permanent resident ducks (perhaps dumped there?), one white and two black and white large ducks that didn't look like the wild ducks. They stood more upright and walked/ran without the ability to fly. I could be wrong, but I think they're in the Indian Runner duck family. The white duck had three ducklings that survived to adulthood, and one of them had twelve ducklings. There are now about 15 offspring from the original three, all of whom share the same traits and cannot fly. These ducks live off of whatever scant food they can find and also from people who feed them. What is disturbing to me, besides that these non-native ducks haven't been removed and continue to multiply, is the way they're treated by children. Whenever I walk by the pond I see a child throwing sticks, rocks, and other objects at the ducks. If they're not throwing objects at them, they're running up to them, forcing them to retreat to the pond. The ducks can't fly away but have to run. The ducks never get a break from being chased or having objects thrown at them throughout the day. Their childrens' parents couldn't care less and I've never heard one of them gently tell their child to respect the animals, to imagine what it would be like to have giants throw stones at them and chase them. These children are also being taught that it's OK to torment animals for amusement. If the ducks could fly to safety it wouldn't be so bad, but those particular ducks (Indian Runner?) can't fly and can only retreat to a very shallow pond for safety.

Parents, please teach your children to respect animals and not treat them as play toys.

Posted by Eric Mills, a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2017 at 9:12 pm

These abusive "scrambles" have been banned from the Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Castro Valley since 1986, due to animal welfare concerns. As renowned animal behaviorist Dr. Temple Grandin has written, "In assessing criteria for suffering, psychological stress which is fear stress, should be considered as important as suffering induced by pain." This assuredly applies to these terrified baby pigs. We are better than this.

The scrambles need to go. A county-wide ordinance banning such cruelties is in order, and the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA would be the likely sponsor. Now's the time. An on-line petition has garnered more than 26,000 signatures in support of a ban, and two dozen San Mateo County veterinarians have signed a statement in support of a ban. This is truly a "no-brainer."u8wtQ

Local politicos like Senator Jerry Hill and Assemblymember Marc Berman need to take an ethical stand on this issue, too. They need to hear from their constituents.

As Tennessee Williams once wrote, "Cruelty is the only unforgivable sin." Continuing this inhumane practice will only serve to tarnish Woodside's image as a compassionate and caring community.

Eric Mills, coordinator

Posted by Eric Mills, a resident of another community
on Mar 18, 2017 at 12:39 pm

As Tennessee Williams once wrote, "Cruelty is the only unforgivable sin."

Let the Woodside Town Council hear from you! These "scrambles" are abusive to the baby pigs, and send a terrible message to impressionable young children about the proper treatment of animals.

WRITE: Mayor Tom Livermore and the Woodside Town Council, Independence Hall, 2955 Woodside Road, Woodside, CA 94062.

EMAIL - council.members@woodsidetown.org

Posted by RWC neighbor, a resident of another community
on Mar 23, 2017 at 4:28 pm

Pigs are very sentient creatures and show significant levels of intelligence. I could barely make it through the first few seconds of the video, thinking of how traumatized these piglets must have been.

If the Mounted Patrol wishes to introduce youngsters to "Western culture", surely there are far more humane and informative methods that will teach children to respect and care for animals, rather than chasing them for sport. I"m especially concerned that this event happens in what I consider a more enlightened part of the country.

As for "American tradition", slavery was once and American tradition. Would the Patrol ever consider holding a mock salve auction as a fundraising event? I think not.

Posted by Kelly, a resident of another community
on Mar 24, 2017 at 7:19 pm

How is this different from chasing after a dog or puppy? My dog loves to be chased. Dogs bark and pigs squeal? I can't believe we allow children to play tag. It is obvious from their screams that they are traumatized and terrified by the game!

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