Pig Scramble under spotlight

The Shenandoah Valley-Herald

WOODSTOCK — A long-standing tradition of the Shenandoah County Fair is the subject of two separate petitions two weeks ahead of the fair’s opening.

Strasburg resident Lee Snarr launched a petition on the website Care2 on July 26 calling for the elimination of the Virginia’s Largest Greased Pig Contest.

The event, a scramble held at the fair for more than 30 years, involves 300 to 400 children chasing and catching 100 pigs around the fair’s grandstand, according to Tom Eshelman, the fair’s general manager.

The petition had received 48,625 signatures worldwide as of Wednesday afternoon, with 916 of them from supporters in Virginia. The petition has a goal of 50,000 signatures.

The fair runs from Aug. 25 to Sept. 2 at the county fairgrounds in Woodstock. The Greased Pig Contest is scheduled for opening night at 7 p.m. with free admission.

Requests to Snarr for comment were not returned. He said in the petition that pig scrambles are outdated and dangerous for the animals involved.

“This isn’t harmless fun, and these animals are not toys,” Snarr’s petition reads. “They are living, feeling, frightened creatures who experience pain and suffering at the hands of others.”

Snarr’s petition also claims that scrambles leave pigs with broken bones and internal injuries, and that they teach children that animal cruelty is acceptable.

The scramble moved from a barn on the fairgrounds to the grandstand in 2016 because of space constraints, Eshelman said. The petition’s claims of injuries to pigs are unfounded, he said.

“I have yet to see a broken limb in five-and-a-half years [as general manager],” he said in a phone interview on Aug. 3.

He has received five complaints about the event this year, including three from overseas, he said.

“I’ve gotten them from Brussels, Prague and Spain, plus one from Hedgesville, W.V., and one from Woodstock,” he said.

In comparison, Eshelman added, he receives more complaints about admission prices, rides and entertainers every year than about the scramble.

While the fair takes all complaints seriously, he said, the scramble is an important part of local culture and history which will be emphasized even more during this year’s centennial fair.

“We are a very agriculture-based community,” he said. “A lot of the kids who compete live on farms. Some of them sell the pigs to a farmer afterward to make a little money, but most of them keep their pigs to raise.”

On July 27, Dana Copp, a 2015 graduate of Central High School and a former member of its Future Farmers of America chapter, launched a petition on the wesbite GoPetition calling for the pig scramble’s preservation.

“We support the education of agriculture with local youth by giving them a fun way to learn about agriculture and livestock,” the petition said. “The volunteers of this event do everything possible to ensure these animals are not mistreated.”

The petition had 302 signatures as of Wednesday afternoon.

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