Given the median income in Woodside these days, you'd be forgiven if you found it strange that the affluent Peninsula town still hosts a July Fourth rodeo that celebrates its Western culture. And now one traditional part of that rodeo, a "pig scramble" in which dozens of little piglets are freed in a rodeo ring and gangs of children chase them around trying to grab one and win a prize could be getting the axe. Some residents say the event amounts to animal cruelty, and is stressful for the baby pigs, while others say it's all in good fun.
The debate was discussed in the Peninsula paper The Almanac and subsequently picked up by The Chronicle. Calls for canceling the event go back a while, and the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA submitted a letter in January 2016 calling the pig scramble "barbaric" and an "inhumane activity which is passed off as some form of entertainment."
Woodside resident Dr. Bonnie Yoffe, a veterinarian who was the former medical chief of staff for the humane society, formed The Humane Woodside committee to try to encourage the town to put a stop to this part of the rodeo, which she calls "archaic."
The arena manager for the rodeo, Michael Raynor, tells the Almanac that those from "urban backgrounds" who see this event as cruel simply don't understand it. "The livestock is less stressed when it is exposed to handling, exposed to being caught and released," he said. "The premise of [the pigs] being terrorized and becoming harder to handle is erroneous. It doesn't work that way. They are easier to handle after the experience, not harder."
Other residents have pointed to what what the pig scramble is teaching kids. A San Rafael child psychologist also weighed in for the town council saying, "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.'"
But Woodside resident Bill Gilbert also weighed in for the Almanac saying that pig scrambles are "better than video games and smoking marijuana."
The San Mateo County Mounted Patrol puts on the annual event, and Patrol Captain Victor Aenlle tells CBS 5, "I think this is just lack of tolerance and disrespect for people’s rights." And, he adds, "We’ve been doing this rodeo for 40 years and there has not been once incident where a pig has been hurt or killed."
It should also be noted, Aenlle says, that whether the pigs are subjected to this scramble or not, they're still all going to be slaughtered for roasting whole within a few weeks of the event.