It was supposed to be a pleasant Christian festival, scheduled for this Saturday in Pompano Beach. There are supposed to be a few bounce houses, some face painting, a mechanical bull, a beach volleyball tournament, some live music, and a silent auction.
But it was something else on the itinerary at this year's Highland Christian Academy Fall Festival that bothered local animal rights activists: The greased pig chase, for the children.
As soon as the Fort Lauderdale-based Animal Rights Foundation of Florida got wind of the event, it planned a protest and sent out a news release that reads, in part:
"Greased animal chases are condemned by every reputable national animal protection organization. They are even outlawed in several states. After ARFF showed how abusive these contests are, Martin County stopped including them in county fairs.
Typically in these contests, children are encouraged to chase, grab and dive on top of young pigs. The events are terrifying experiences for the animals. Due to the violent nature of the event, it is not uncommon for the animals' legs to be broken or for ligaments to be violently torn. In some contests the young animals are lifted by their back legs, swung around, and tossed into a barrel.
If puppies were terrorized, chased, jumped on, wrestled and grabbed by their back legs, the public would be outraged, and the school would be cited for violating animal cruelty laws."
Today ARFF announced that it is canceling its protest, saying that members of the organization spoke with school officials and believe the school is "choosing compassion over cruelty."
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As of this afternoon, nobody at the school could confirm whether it had in fact canceled the greased pig chase, but when I spoke with him yesterday, Ken Lopez, headmaster at the academy, said he was leaning strongly toward not having it. He made it clear, however, that his decision had nothing to do with the planned protest. Rather, he said, he was more concerned that some of the parents and faculty might not be comfortable with the contest.
"We don't make our decisions based on an outside party," Lopez said. "We do what we think is right. If someone wanted to protest us saying the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, that wouldn't stop us at all. In this case, there may be some valid points, and it really might not be what we want to do." He noted that he cares about the welfare of animals and that he is "sensitive to people within our school community."
Of the activists, who for days bombarded his office with phone calls and emails (some less respectful than others), he says, "I hope they come and enjoy the fair."
UPDATE: On their way to the circus protest in Boca Raton this weekend, a few animal-rights activists stopped by the fair to check it out. They say it seems that there was no greased pig chase held. From one of the activists: "We didn't see any sign of the contest. It was not advertised anywhere and they didn't have any area sectioned off for it or any area where the pigs were kept. So, we assumed it was off for sure."