Written by Meaghan M. McDermott , Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
An upcoming squirrel hunt fundraiser for Orleans County's Holley Fire Department is attracting attention from animal lovers all over the world.
And not in a good way.
There are online petitions circulating against it, a United Kingdom newspaper wrote about it and a psychologist even blogged about it for Psychology Today, calling the fundraiser "pure barbarism"; There's even a Facebook page against it that had more than 200 "likes" Wednesday evening.
But organizers of the squirrel hunt say critics have their upcoming competition all wrong, and are asking those who object to "respect the freedoms and rights of those who choose to participate and support this event."
The department's 7th Annual Hazzard County Squirrel Slam is slated to run Feb. 16. While the event's name is a little tongue-in-cheek - it's named for the fictional rural Georgia county that served as home to Bo and Luke Duke in the early 1980s CBS television series The Dukes of Hazzard - the event itself is deadly serious. At least for the squirrels.
For a $10 per-person fee, two-person teams will compete in various age groups in an effort to bag the heaviest squirrel. Prizes range from $50 to $200.
There are also planned raffles for a variety of rifles and shotguns.
Money raised by the event is traditionally used to help offset the cost of equipment such as hoses and turnout gear for the all-volunteer fire department, said Fire Chief Pete Hendrickson.
Hendrickson said that despite the outcry, there's no plan to cancel the event. Indeed, he said, almost all 700 available tickets for the hunt have been sold. "We've been taking emails and phone calls - I spent all day (at the firehouse) on Sunday, my day off, to field phone calls from people across the continent in regards to their concerns," he said. "But we have talked as a board, and there's two sides to every story, and at this point there are very few local people who are upset."
Julie Gallagher, who runs the website squirrelplanet.org from her home in Austin, Texas, is upset by the hunt.
A squirrel lover who learned about the squirrel slam via social media, Gallagher started a change.org petition that's gathered nearly 6,000 signatures. Calling the hunt, "pointless killing," Gallagher noted that it's possible some of the heaviest squirrels out and about this time of year could be momma squirrels. "Giving prizes for the heaviest, the mommas will be the heaviest, and they'll be leaving orphan babies in the nests and to leave baby squirrels to starve is cruel and heartless."
Psychologist Gay Bradshaw, executive director of The Kerulos Center, an Oregon nonprofit that researches animal trauma and recovery and seeks to promote trans-species communication, wrote about the hunt for Psychology Today.
In her blog post, she noted that the Holley event is open to hunters age 12 and older and decried the event's promotion of killing and violence by children. "What clicked about this event was the cycle of violence and encouraging children to harm and kill for money," she said. "To kill something is a very profound act."
Wednesday afternoon, officials with the Humane Society of Greater Rochester weighed in, asking the fire department to reconsider its stance. "It is our position that events such as the Squirrel Slam display insensitivity to the suffering of animals and condone animal abuse as an acceptable form of entertainment," said Alice Calabrese, Humane Society president in a letter to the fire department. "Many of our supporters are equally as incredulous that such an event is being promoted in our community."
Still, Hendrickson said the event is being misunderstood. He said it abides by all state hunting laws, and noted that it's gray squirrel season here through Feb. 28 and red squirrel season year-round. "There's a lot of people locally that spend time with their families and come do this hunt," he said. "They come down and have a good time. It's like a fishing derby, and the only difference is it's with squirrels." And, he said, not a year has gone by where any of the squirrels went to waste. "We usually have people arguing over taking them for food," he said. "Some people take their game home and some leave it here for others to take. And, I've had people argue over the pelts too."
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle