A tradition at the Woodside Junior Rodeo is under fire. Dr. Bonnie Yoffe, former medical chief of staff for the Peninsula Humane Society and SPCA and a practicing veterinarian, says a "large coalition of Woodside residents" and people from neighboring towns are organizing to try to stop an event called the "pig scramble," held annually at the Woodside rodeo on July Fourth.
The pig scramble "involves frantic groups of children chasing, grabbing at, and tackling terrified baby pigs," Dr. Yoffe, a longtime Woodside resident, says in a letter to be read Tuesday, June 28, at a Woodside Town Council meeting. "So far we have 26 local residents supporting getting the pig scramble banned and the number is growing daily."
Since the item is not on the council's agenda, the council cannot legally discuss or act on it. There are, as yet, no plans to put the pig-scramble matter on a council agenda, Town Manager Kevin Bryant said.
The Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County, which hosts the rodeo at its grounds on Kings Mountain Road, said in a statement that, "the safety and health of the animals and participants is a major concern. ... The Patrol and its members do not condone the mistreatment, or willful injury to any animal or person in this event, or at any other time."
The pig scrambles have been injury-free to both humans and animals, and it is the Patrol's goal to maintain that record, the statement says.
When asked to comment, Ken White, president of the Peninsula Humane Society, said the organization shares the concerns of protesting Woodside residents "both in terms of the potential for harm to the animals, and also regarding the negative message this 'scramble' gives to young children."
He said he hoped the Town Council "will listen to its concerned residents," noting that the humane society will have officers at the rodeo to look for any injury to or abuse of animals.
Longtime Woodside resident Darlene Batchelder emailed the council and characterized the pig scramble as "telling children that it is OK to bully and tease. The Germans have a wonderful word for this activity," she added. "Schadenfreude taking pleasure in the discomfort of others. The adults watching get a laugh at the expense of the pigs' well being (as in), 'Oh well, they're just pigs.'"
As an alternative, she said, parents could read E. B. White's "Charlotte's Web," a story for children of all ages about barnyard life told from a pig's point of view.
Jennifer Gonzales, a Woodside resident, called it "absolutely unthinkable" to have small children chasing pigs. "And the pigs, of course, are going to come out of this traumatized," she said.
"The Mounted Patrol serves the community. They rescue. They help. That's all wonderful," she said. "Chasing baby pigs that are terrified? That is not wonderful. ... That is wrong."
"Pigs do scream a lot," Peninsula Humane Society investigator Christina Hanley said in 2014. "Any time you try to handle them, their reaction is to scream. They can make a lot of noise even if they're not stressed. ... To (the Mounted Patrol's) knowledge and to our knowledge, no animals have been injured."