STEPHENSVILLE – Bleachers are out and the fences are up.
An Outagamie County church is set for its annual pig wrestling event coming up this weekend.
But controversy is growing over the community round-up held at St. Patrick Church in Stephensville.
“It’s been going on for over 40 years and it’s our annual festival and fundraiser combined,” said Ken Bilgrien with St. Patrick Church.
But before people take their places in the stands, or in the ring, animal activists are trying 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,” said Global Conservation Group president Jordan Turner.
Event organizers say Turner’s claims are untrue.
“Absolutely not, absolutely totally wrong, they aren’t put in a bucket, they aren’t put in anything they are not punched, kicked,” said Bilgrien.
During the event, groups of around five to six people will get inside a ring. Organizers size a pig accordingly.
As you can see above in the YouTube video of last year’s pig rassle, people race around a muddy ring trying to catch a pig.
“Generally the 300-400 pound pig wins,” Bilgrien said. “These young girls that end up face down in the mud, and 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.”
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,” said Turner.
I checked with sheriff’s officials who say nothing illegal has happened at the pig rassle 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 fears in good people,” Bilgrien said.
As word about the event and the alleged treatment of the pigs spreads, the church is concerned about potential misperceptions.
“I don’t want them out there worrying about abused animals because it’s not happening,” said Bilgrien.
The event, which organizers say brings in about $3,000 each year, has been canceled in the past. Protests by PETA halted the round-up for two years in the early 1990s.
Bilgrien says safety comes first, and no people or animals have ever been seriously injured during the event.