If animals could talk, not just with each other but across species, it might be interesting to hear their views on being chased. There is chasing while playing, but if you're a prey animal, is there a marked difference between running from a hungry lion and running from an angry zebra?
That question has come up in Woodside with respect to the domestic pig, an animal noted for its intelligence. Pigs understand mirrors, can herd sheep, can do circus tricks, and can play video games, according to a 2009 article by New York Times science writer Natalie Angier. Pigs are also slow to forget, she wrote.
Slowness to forget may have been on display at the annual July Fourth "pig scramble" at the junior rodeo hosted by the Mounted Patrol of San Mateo County. Three groups of children in three rounds took turns chasing a group of maybe 20 young pigs around a dusty arena. The prize for catching and detaining a pig: winning a ribbon or an award.
In the first two rounds, as seen in a video provided to the Almanac, the pigs left their trailer and gathered in a herd and meandered around in the open before the chase began. On the third round, though, the pigs hung around the entrance to the trailer and tried to re-enter. Rodeo hands pushed them back out and sometimes tossed them out, but the pigs persisted. If they weren't trying to get back in the trailer, they were hiding under its low-slung floor.
"To me, that was very telling," said Shani Campbell, an animal rights activist from the East Bay on the scene. "(The pigs) made a very clear choice. They did not want to participate. ... It's not OK if the animals are forced. That's teaching the kids a very very wrong message."
"It was clear to me that they'd just had enough," said Pat Cuviello, an animal rights activist from Belmont who accompanied Ms. Campbell to the rodeo and shot the video.
"I don't like any aspect of the rodeo," Ms. Campbell said, "but the pig scramble, to me, was horrifying. They are docile creatures. They are gentle creatures. No animal wants to be chased. No animal wants to be tackled."
Rodeo arena boss Michael Raynor, who said he grew up raising pigs, said that scared pigs are wide eyed and kicking up sand. The pigs in the pig scramble were staying just ahead of their pursuers, an indication that they're not scared, he said. Scared pigs "really start being evasive. They're running for their lives," he said.
(For the record, the video shows the chased pigs kicking up sand and being significantly evasive.)
As for their emotions, Mr. Raynor called humanizing animals a common mistake and said that pigs are not psychologically harmed by the chase. "They don't have the complicated emotional overlay that humans have," he said. "I'll pick one up and a second later it's half asleep in my arms," he said. "It's just here and now (for them). It's not a long term effect. They know people. They like people."
Mr. Raynor explained the pigs' hiding under the trailer as normal. Pigs like to lay together in piles, he said. "I just think they found a place that is nice and shady and a tight spot, as in 'We've got a quiet spot in here. We're going to lay in a pile.'"
Talking about pigs
The pig scramble became a visible cause this time around. Rodeo patrons were greeted at the gate by people holding signs denouncing the event as unkind and cruel to pigs and a toxic example for children on how to relate to animals.
"We got lots of support and definitely increased awareness about the pig scramble event," Woodside resident and protester Belle Stafford said in an email. "There was a steady stream of cars, many were supportive, many kept looking straight ahead, an indication that we made them uncomfortable," she said.
The Patrol "were actually very nice to us," Ms. Stafford added, noting a box of bottled water the Patrol had given them. Mr. Raynor said he walked out and spent time talking with them, a happenstance that Ms. Stafford confirmed.
Opposition to the pig scramble had been in the air. Six days earlier, opponents complained to the Town Council, which listened but could not act since the matter was not on the agenda. Among the arguments: that the event is "a painful, terrifying, and dangerous ordeal for the pigs," that it is "undoubtedly cruel," and that it is "antithetical" to aspirations of mutual respect for all creatures.
On that occasion, pig scramble boosters also spoke. Terry Welcome, captain of the Patrol, called the event wholesome and reflecting a Western tradition that celebrates "independence, hard work, responsibility, compassion for animals that help to do much of the ranch work, and camaraderie." A veterinarian and member of the Patrol said he'd seen no injuries to the pigs over the years.
The council asked staff to research the issues and consider possible courses of action.