DUNDAS, P.E.I. –The annual “pig scramble” at a rural fair in Prince Edward Island amounts to animal cruelty, says a New Brunswick woman who is behind a campaign to stop the event.
The contest features small children chasing four squealing swine as they scramble around an enclosed pen.
“I know a lot of people think it’s just a farm animal, but it’s not just a farm animal – it’s still an animal,” Melodie Robb said in an interview Tuesday from Moncton.
“It’s not just for fun when the pigs get hurt. They use smaller pigs, and sometimes their little legs get broken and their shoulders get broken.”
Robb’s change.org petition had more than 2,700 signatures by late Tuesday. It calls for an end to the event at the Prince Edward Island Plowing Match and Agricultural Fair, which is scheduled to be held in late August in Dundas.
She said the event may be steeped in tradition, but it remains cruel.
“If it’s part of history, shouldn’t it stay in the past? Times are changing,” she said. “Society is viewing animal cruelty differently now … If the kids were told what happens to the poor pigs, and they realized that they get hurt, well they wouldn’t want to do it.”
Fair co-president Gordon Jackson said the fair’s 15-member board has held discussions with the provincial Agriculture Department, which is responsible for ensuring animals at the event are treated humanely.
As well, Jackson said the board will meet next month to decide how to respond to Robb’s complaint.
“We’ve done this for a number of years and we’ve never had an issue,” Jackson said, adding that the “pig scramble” in P.E.I. is unlike similar events held at other fairs.
Typically, pig scrambles involve children chasing small pigs, grabbing them by the hind legs and then trying to stuff them in a burlap sack –a chaotic process that is more difficult than it sounds
At the P.E.I. event, however, eight children –ages 5 to 7 years old –use empty feed bags to guide four pigs toward a small house in the middle of a large ring. The first two-person team to accomplish the task wins.
“The pigs are going to move away, but half the time the little kids are too scared to move,” Jackson said. “We run two or three rounds, and it’s all over in half an hour.”
Robb said the event should be stopped because it leaves the animals traumatized.
“They’re saying that they don’t chase them, but when you put a group of kids in with an animal like that, of course they’re going to chase them,” she said. “That’s why it’s called a pig scramble.”
Earlier this year, Robb led a successful campaign to stop a pig scramble at the Westmorland County Agricultural Fair in Petitcodiac, N.B.
Robb said she works closely with Toronto Pig Save, whose website encourages plant-based vegan living and holds regular vigils to remember the young pigs killed daily at slaughter houses in the city.
The Toronto-based group, which has grown into a global movement with 50 chapters, started in December 2010. It also holds similar vigils for cows and chickens.
Pig scrambles are nothing new to fall fairs across North America.
One of the biggest events is in Quebec, where the annual Pig Festival near Drummondville has drawn tens of thousands of people every year since 1978. Celine Dion attended in 1991 and attendance peaked at 60,000 in 2007.
The Pig Festival includes a pig race that challenges participants to grab a greased pig in the mud and put it in a large bin. Then there’s the “extreme boar challenge,” which calls for shoving plastic rings around boars’ necks.
Every year, some 6,000 people gather at the local arena to see the race, according to the festival’s website.
The Montreal SPCA has condemned the events.
“We would never allow dogs to be subject to this sort of activity,” the group said in 2015. “Yet, we allow pigs, who are even more sensitive and more intelligent than dogs, and they’re being used in this matter, simply for entertainment.”