Sheep dressing, pig wrestling, chicken scrambling: Bullies are made, not born

piggestraffleFor weeks now, our local newspaper has been running a full-page ad for the PIGGEST. RAFFLE. EVER. It exhorts me to kick-off my summer “the right way, by winning the ultimate BBQ package.” A pink pig, arms akimbo, grins sardonically. If he’d just glance down the page some nine inches, he’d see a chart of his body sliced up into meat cuts. A little less to grin about, no? The grand prize is a Weber grill and one-half of a pig. Second place gets the other half.

Every time I see this ad I’m reminded of the human tendency to distance ourselves from the other animals with whom we share sentience. We make cartoons of them and require that they serve as willing purveyors of their own dead bodies in our sick, meat-obsessed culture (see the now-defunct-but-still-online Suicide Food blog). Maintaining a facade of normalcy is critical as industrialized animal agriculture runs entirely amok–deforesting, polluting, and warming the earth; causing unbearable, unknowable suffering and death times multiple billions, and sickening the very consumers who’ve been duped into eating antibiotic-laced bodily remains and reproductive stuff (nursing milk, eggs) that humans don’t need.

Industrial animal agriculture will collapse eventually–proving its unsustainability even while it continues to insist on the flimsy illusion that it can “feed the world.” But in the meantime, it still needs human recruits to serve as worker bees. That’s how pig wrestling, sheep dressing, and other such absurdities figure into this. Because what are these light-hearted, fun scrambles and dressing events but a breeding ground for the bullies who’ll carry on the tradition?

Your “fun” ends where my body begins–unless you’re livestock

Judging from the number of recent hits at the Other Nations pig wrestling page, there’s a whole lotta squealin’ goin’ on the world over. That, or word’s out about how those crazy Americans like to get down at their summer galas of animal abuse otherwise known as county fairs, 4-H fairs, and rodeos. Recently, website visitors from as close as Canada and as far as Sri Lanka and Mauritius have accessed the page, while on the home front, folks from all four corners of the U.S. and states in-between have visited. In all honesty, the website doesn’t get much traffic, but fully 55-65% of recent hits have landed at pig wrestling. It’s summer again in America.

Look, I know what you’re thinking: OK, pig wrestling is one thing…but what about sheep dressing? Where does that fit into the panoply of nonhuman animal use and abuse? And…what the heck is it, anyhow?

Three girls, ages 10 and 11, were teamed up. According to one contestant,

That brings me to another ad the local paper recently ran–for the Ronan (MT) Pioneer Days (Facebook). What caught my eye was the Kiddie Slicker Rodeo with “events not limited to” kids’ sheep riding (often more muscularly called mutton bustin’), kids’ sheep dressing (photo), calf cash race, chicken scramble (photo), pig scramble (photo), and calf dressing. Now, take a moment to catch your breath upon contemplating how those events will play out and the gamut of emotions–from garden variety fear to panic to terror–these docile, domesticated animals will experience as they’re chased and manhandled by screaming mobs of children vying for glory. (Click here for a picture from a previous year that looks, for all the world, like a calf being assaulted. Not sure what the event is as the photo’s cutline doesn’t match the picture, but it’s likely the calf cash race.)

It occurs to me–and perhaps you, too–that such abusive behavior masquerading as “good, old-fashioned fun” provides an important lesson for young kids being schooled in the ways of animal agriculture: Animals are property at our disposal. Their fear and pain–if we acknowledge that these exist at all–must be discounted and disregarded. This is no time and place for compassion. After all, the boy who forces clothing onto a frightened calf today might very well be the man who cruelly ropes one by the neck in the rodeo arena tomorrow. Livestock animals, who have the “dubious distinction of existing to die” (to quote from research on the 4-H livestock program), must not be seen as individuals who think and feel, but as classes of commodities. Consider the fact that chickens and calves in the scramble events have money attached to their bodies and the lesson is complete: Not only do you “win” when you dominate animals, but you profit from it, too.

Bullies are made, not born. They’re made at sheep dressing competitions and pig wrestling matches. They develop and hone their callous disregard for sentient others at calf cash races and chicken scrambles, events that are presented to them as normal and fun. Why? Because to perpetuate itself, animal agriculture requires that children embrace the lessons of speciesism. One could even posit the idea that animal ag victimizes not only animals, but children, too.
Learn more:

  • Watch video of 2010’s Ronan Pioneer Days events: sheep riding, sheep dressing, calf cash race, and pig scramble, with kids’ and adults’ stick horse races interspersed.
  • “Adult” calf dressing at Salinas, CA rodeo, video here
  • “Reproducing Dominion: Emotional apprenticeship in the 4-H youth livestock program,” a research paper
  • “Pig wrestling: Small injustices enable larger ones” at Other Nations
  • Don’t support this madness! Go vegan.

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“Extreme Huntress” and hunting’s flimsy facade

mtnliontrophyHow extreme does one have to be to earn the title of “Extreme Huntress”? Don’t let the diminutive -ess suffix trick you into thinking this title is a shoddy substitute for the real (male) deal. These women will get up off their childbirth bed to score a trophy–and tote two-week-old Junior along for the thrill of the kill.

I don’t go looking for this stuff–it arrives in my home uninvited but for my subscription to the local newspaper, a paper that never saw a dead animal/gloating hunter picture it wouldn’t publish. But admittedly, the local angle was there: Three Montana women were among the 20 Extreme Huntress semifinalists (the two featured in my morning paper have been eliminated), and the film company behind the contest is located in northwestern Montana. Its mission for the competition is stated thus:


Click image for website

Now the field of potential huntresses for 2015 has been culled to six finalists. They include an Aussie who writes a “Babes & Bows” column for a bowhunting mag and has “taken” 40-some species. There’s a Texas bowhuntress who, while on a wild pig killing spree, tearfully passed up a trophy whitetail deer buck for conservation purposes: “My gut wrenching decision to conserve and do the right thing, proved what I needed to know about myself.” Here’s a woman from British Columbia who got over her phobia of bears by blasting one, and here’s a Montanan who “never rests” in her pursuit of living to hunt and hunting to live. A South African adrenaline junkie started as a five-year-old with a bird-dispatching slingshot and moved on to a pellet gun for “shooting doves and small vermin,” eventually graduating to a kudu antelope bull as a pre-teen. A Swedish woman gave up ice hockey and ventured from her small village to earn a professional hunter license in South Africa and to work as a hunting guide in Canada. (See photos and essays from all six here.)

It takes more than just bravado to make the cut, as some of these also-rans can attest: One eliminated semifinalist went to Africa to “(take) down the Dangerous Seven and countless plains game. I thought I was a beast after successfully shooting down a charging lion at 15 yards.” Another killed a giraffe with a bow, but it was the pig stickin’ in Texas where she achieved glory:

The 777 Ranch in Hondo, TX, a commercial game farm (“You can find almost every hooved animal in the world at the 777 Ranch!”), hosts the Extreme Huntress final competition. “Once on the ranch…the final six will compete in head-to-head challenges. …These challenges will include hunting exotic animals like black deer, gazelles and oryx, along with skill competitions like long-range shooting and biathlon” (source). The 2015 winner will be revealed at the Dallas Safari Club’s annual convention, an over-the-top celebration of nonhuman animal death in the service of human animal ego. You might recall that a hunt for the critically-endangered black rhino was auctioned to wealthy bidders at the 2014 convention in a kill-’em-to-save-’em perversion of conservation.

So who’s got what it takes to be named Extreme Huntress? Well, she has to be down with killing sentient nonhumans and–one assumes–has never lost a moment’s sleep pondering our moral obligation to other animal species (other than to conserve them for future hunting). She has to be an accomplished shot and in good physical condition. At at time when interest in hunting is declining, she’ll serve as an ambassador and mentor to women and kids. She has to be a credible spokesperson for the “hunting tradition” in all its permutations.

I haven’t written this piece to invite verbal abuse of these women though, god knows, the blowhard pig sticker has rolled out that welcome mat herself. I’ve been dismayed by animal defenders who gather in online feeding frenzies to hurl violent and sometimes misogynist invectives at animal killers–energy-sucking exercises that accomplish nothing for animals living or dead. Because it’s an easy enterprise, we tend to zoom in on the individuals gloating with warped pride in trophy photos; it’s more difficult–but perhaps more enlightening–to attempt to bring the bigger picture into focus. Thoreau observed that “(t)here are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” And it’s no wonder…the branches are so much more accessible.

So what’s the take-away message here? That women hunters are as ruthless and lacking in empathy as male hunters? (Or, from their perspective, that they’re as “brave” and accomplished?) That they’re the willing tools of a male-dominated industry that sees them as an untapped source of revenue? That they’re courting the admiration or approval of boyfriends and husbands? That other animal species, despite what science has revealed about their physiological and emotional complexities, are nothing more than fodder for our arrows, bullets, stomachs, and egos? That phenomena like Extreme Huntress are minor, regressive blips in humans’ evolution of ethics vis-a-vis other species? That the whole sorry spectacle is just another cynical manifestation of capitalism’s unholy alliance with speciesism? I don’t know, either. Maybe it’s all those things.

The Swedish competitor, however, presents an intriguing opportunity to compare passions and pursuits–she played ice hockey at an elite level until she threw that over for hunting. Let’s consider. The sport of ice hockey requires high levels of skill and athleticism. It requires two willing teams, evenly matched, both of which understand the rules of the game and compete fairly to best the other. One team wins, one team loses, and both go home to compete another day.

Now consider hunting. Levels of human skill and athleticism vary greatly (but with enough money, guaranteed hunts can be purchased). Of the two teams, one has abundant technological advantage (safari jeeps, ATVs, snowmobiles, tech-equipped guides, high-powered weaponry, scopes, night vision optics, scent removers, scent attractants, decoys, trained dogs outfitted with GPS units, electronic calls, etc.). The “rules” of the game aren’t equally understood by each party and, despite all the talk of ethics and fair chase (sometimes there’s no chase at all), the nonhuman animals haven’t consented to the competition and likely don’t know they’re in a match for their lives. Finally, when the advantaged human team “wins,” the other team dies.

The only thing extreme about hunting is its extremely flimsy facade as “sport.”
Note: This piece was written in 2014 and focused on the competitors for 2015. The current batch of competitive killers are vying for the 2016 title. _______________________________________________________________

Learn more:

  • Extreme Huntress is on Facebook.
  • Video of 2014’s competition final is here.
  • Former Extreme Huntress title winner profiles are here.
  • 777 Ranch Facebook page
  • “Dallas Safari Club wants U.S. government to lift ‘arbitrary and capricious’ ban on importing ivory from African countries,” article here
  • Liberate yourself–go vegan!

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Stop a depraved ‘predator derby’ on your public land

Predatory jackrabbit. Click image – witness lagomorphs’ vicious nature.
Jim Harper photo – en-wikipedia

The Environmental Assessment has been issued; comment deadline is Oct. 16, 2014. Details at end of post.

Q: What do coyotes, skunks, weasels, jackrabbits, raccoons, starlings, and grey wolves in Idaho have in common?
A: An arsenal of bullets heading their way.

Why? All are designated as predators by Idaho Fish and Game. And unless we–you and I–send a clear message to federal land managers about the value of these animals on our taxpayer-supported public lands, they will be in the crosshairs on 3,100,000 acres (Challis, Salmon, and Upper Snake Field Offices of the Idaho Falls BLM District) during another competitive killing derby slated for early January 2015. It’s sponsored by predator hate group Idaho for Wildlife, and follows their first, controversial derby held last winter–that one limited to coyotes and wolves. This time, they’re seeking a 5-year federal special recreation permit for their expanded death-fest.

So here’s the bad news: the public comment deadline is this Monday, Aug. 18. And here’s the good news: this is only the scoping period. It gives the public an opportunity to make suggestions for the development of the formal Environmental Assessment (EA), which will have its own public comment period. So if you don’t get your two cents in this time, not to worry–you’ll have another chance.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), for those unfamiliar with it, is a federal land-managing agency (like the Forest Service, National Park Service, US Fish & Wildlife Service…) that manages for multiple use primarily here in the West. Read the BLM’s scoping letter to the public concerning the predator derby. It’s brief and lets you know what issues and impacts they plan to analyze in the EA. It also includes the email address for your comments.

Remember that our most intense antipathy should be reserved for Idaho Fish and Game for allowing competitive, gratuitous killing disguised as wildlife management, but our trump card as U.S. citizens is our public land investment. Federal land managers must hear from us that recreational killing contests are inappropriate on America’s public lands and that we expect them to deny the permit. Specifically, you might choose from these points and tell them:

  • to follow their own policy on competitions in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas (WSAs–several of these are within the competition area).
  • if the permit is granted, they’ll need adequate law enforcement to ensure that no hunting occurs in WSAs (an almost impossible task).
  • you object to a multiple-year permit as there are too many unknowns (WSA incursions? # of predators killed? impacts on habitat/ecosystems?)
  • though hunting these animals is legal, that doesn’t mean they should permit an organized competition to kill as many as possible.
  • (this one’s especially for those of us who don’t live in Idaho) that public land belongs to ALL citizens and must be managed for all.

The derby is scheduled for Jan. 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, during which time contestants will slaughter as many predators as possible. According to the “Description of the Proposed Action” document (it, too, is brief):

If the mental image of these conscienceless killers (up to 500 of them!) hauling their bloody booty in for a tally of points is abhorrent to you, you’re not alone. If your understanding of the intricate relationships between wildlife* and ecosystems is based on scientific knowledge instead of ignorant hatred and self-interest, you’ve got company. If you think sentient, nonhuman animals should be left alone to conduct their lives in their own homes, you have many allies. While remembering that hunting these species is legal in Idaho and the BLM must respond to this request for a special recreation permit, let’s respectfully flood their office–now, or later when the EA comes out, or both–with our expectations for responsible public land stewardship.

*European starlings are non-native–just FYI.

The Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Idaho public lands predator derby Special Recreation Permit (SRP) has been issued; comments are accepted from now until October 16, 2014. Find the EA and previous documentshere. Contact information for the Bureau of Land Management Salmon Field office (to submit your comment) is here. State your preference as Alternative 2: No action alternative.

Sending your own comments is best (as opposed to advocacy group form letters). Following are a few more talking points–please put them in your own words:

  • From page 6 of the EA: “Approximately 56,500 comments were received during the scoping period. Roughly 56,490 commentors indicated opposition to the event; most of these letters were copies of nine different form letters that expressed general disapproval of a hunting derby wherever it is held. Approximately 500 unique/personalized comments were received.”

Even if they remove all the so-called form letters, they still received 500 against to only 10 in favor! This overwhelming public opposition cannot be ignored; when do we, the citizens, have a say as to what happens on OUR public land? Remember–this is not local land or Idaho’s land–this is our land.

  • This is not “predator management” (as it is referred to in the EA)–it is killing for fun and profit. The EA even acknowledges (pg. 13) that coyote removal doesn’t increase prey species and doesn’t eliminate coyotes!
  • From page 15 of the EA: “The largest single category of non-resident wildlife-related recreation spending in Idaho is wildlife watching. Over 550,000 individual wildlife watchers spend over $432 million per year in Idaho and make up 67% of all “sportsmen” who recreate in the state.” Tourism based on wildlife watching–not killing–is an economic driver!
  • From page 20 of the EA: “Predatory species identified in the event would still be harvested at approximately equivalent levels, but not as a part of this event. There would not be localized increases in incidental non- game animal displacement.” Where is the data that suggests this? A competitive derby, in essence, creates a “bounty” for predatory species, and to suggest that up to 500 (the maximum allowed under the SRP) enthusiastic killers vying for cash prizes would not make a difference in slaughter rates is outlandish.

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