OUTAGAMIE COUNTY (WITI) -- An Outagamie County church is drawing ire by those opposed to its plans to again have pig wrestling at its church picnic Sunday. And now, we're learning PETA is urging the church to cancel the event.
Bleachers are out and the fences are up...and St. Patrick Parish in Stephensville, Wisconsin is gearing up for the event this weekend -- but controversy is growing.
The pig wrestling venue is in place behind St. Patrick Parish for the annual roundup event.
"It's been going on for over 40 years -- and it's our annual festival and fundraiser combined," Ken Bilgrien with St. Patrick Parish said.
But before people take their places in the stands - or in the ring, animal activists are working to cancel what they call an animal fighting contest.
"Pigs are commonly punched in the face, kicked or body slammed to try and get in the barrel because the goal of this event is to try and get a pig," Global Conservation Group President Jordan Turner said.
Event organizers say Turner's claims aren't true.
"Absolutely not. Absolutely, totally wrong. They aren't put in a bucket. They aren't put in anything. They are not punched, kicked," Bilgrien said.
During the event, groups of around five to six people will get inside the ring. Organizers size a pig accordingly.
As you can see in the YouTube video of last year's event - people race around a muddy ring trying to catch a pig.
"These young girls that end up face down in the mud -- I swear the pigs stopped and turned around and laughed at them, so it's a fun event and really, we think the pigs enjoy it," Bilgrien said.
Turner disagrees, and has started a petition reaching around 25,000 signatures to get organizers to cancel the event. He says it's not just inhumane - it's illegal.
"In our interpretation of the law, absolutely," Turner said.
Sheriff's officials say nothing illegal has happened at the event in the past, and if it continues to be run the same way - they don't anticipate any future problems.
"A small group has put a lot of fear in good people," Bilgrien said.
As word about the event and the alleged treatment of the pigs spreads, the church is concerned about potential misconceptions.
"I don't want them out there worrying about abused animals -- because it's not happening," Bilgrien said.
The event, which organizers say brings in about $3,000, has been canceled in the past.
Protests by PETA halted the roundup for two years in the early 90s.
Bilgrien says safety comes first and no people or animals have ever been seriously injured during the event.
On Friday, August 8th, we learned PETA's Director of Christian Outreach and Engagement has sent a letter to Bilgrien regarding this weekend's event.
A statement submitted to FOX6 News reads as follows:
Kind people across the country are urging the Hortonville-based St. Patrick Parish–Stephensville to cancel the "Pig Rassle" planned as part of its 44th Annual Roundup Days this weekend—and PETA Director of Christian Outreach and Engagement Sarah Withrow King is among them.
In an urgent letter sent this morning to Deacon Ken Bilgrien, the pastoral coordinator of the church, King points out that chasing, grabbing, and tackling pigs and then slamming them onto overturned barrel drums—can result in leaving them with injuries so severe that they must be killed immediately to end their suffering—is not only cruel but also goes directly against Jesus' teachings of love and compassion.
"Just like the cats and dogs with whom we share our homes, pigs are created by God, who has charged humans with the care and stewardship of all creation," writes King. "Forcing God's creatures through this violent and frantic ordeal represents neither careful stewardship nor loving dominion."
PETA, whose motto reads, in part, "Animals are not ours to abuse in any way," suggests replacing pig wrestling with an event that everyone can enjoy, such as a human wrestling contest or a muddy footrace.
The letter sent to Bilgrien by PETA's Director of Christian Outreach and Engagement reads as follows:
Dear Deacon Bilgrien,
I am the director of Christian outreach and engagement with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and am writing on behalf of our more than 3 million members and supporters worldwide. More importantly, I’m writing as a fellow follower of Jesus to urge you to cancel the “Pig Rassle” scheduled to take place during the 44th Annual Roundup Days this weekend.
We learned from Jesus that just because something is legal doesn’t necessarily make it right. While Wisconsin’s anti-cruelty laws prohibit treating any animal in a cruel manner or allowing a fight between an animal and a person, my appeal to you is based not on the law but on compassion.
Just like the cats and dogs with whom we share our homes, pigs are created by God, who has charged humans with the care and stewardship of all creation. Please imagine how traumatic it is for a pig to be chased, grabbed, and tackled by participants and then crammed into barrel drums—all while trapped in a pen lined with shouting crowds and with no means of escape or defense. The very nature of these events is inhumane—the pigs are not willing participants. They often sustain severe injuries, such as broken limbs or backs, and must be killed immediately to end their suffering.
Forcing God’s creatures through this violent and frantic ordeal represents neither careful stewardship nor loving dominion. There are many other activities scheduled as part of the weekend festivities. Will you please cancel the pig wrestling and replace it with a humane alternative? You could hold a wrestling contest or a muddy footrace with willing human participants. And if you’d truly like to reflect the love of Jesus and emulate the example he set for us, you could go so far as to invite the pigs to join you for dinner—as honored guests, of course.
Thank you for your time and attention to this urgent matter. May I hear back from you today?
Grace and peace,
Sarah Withrow King
Director of Christian Outreach and Engagement - PETA
CLICK HERE to learn more about St. Patrick Parish in Stephensville.