• Eugene Weekly Loves You!
Share |

Bad To Chase Bunnies at the Rodeo?

Bunny at a recent animal scramble. Photo Scott Beckstead/HSUS.

One bunny had a broken jaw and was missing its tail. Three more wound up at the home of a Cottage Grove employee after a co-worker said her kids couldn’t keep them. Heather Crippen of Red Barn Rabbit Rescue says that those were a few of the results of a previous “animal scramble” at the Cottage Grove Rodeo.

Crippen started Red Barn with her daughter and runs the small rescue out of her farm in Creswell. She says with 50 rabbits already and a waiting list of 20 more, she wants to avoid more hurt and homeless bunnies. She has been asking the rodeo, which will take place July 12-13, to sponsor a different event for children. Rabbits are fragile and the event stresses, sickens and even kills them, she says. In the animal scramble last year, and at a recent one at Myrtle Creek in Douglas County, rabbits were tossed out of trailers or pickup trucks and into an arena where hordes of children were unleashed to chase and catch them. 

Red Barn’s video of the 2012 scramble shows bunnies getting stepped on and, Crippen says, paralyzed with fear. If the kids catch a rabbit at the event, they keep it. An attendee at the Myrtle Creek scramble was reported to have said to his child, “You going to catch us a rabbit? Going to help dad butcher it?”

Crippen has offered to donate money to the Cottage Grove Riding Club (CGRC) for a different, animal-friendly event, such as one that hides money and prizes inside plastic eggs. The rodeo and scramble are a fundraiser for the riding club. At press time, the rescue’s offer has not been accepted. CGRC president Kelli Fisher says the event benefits the community and it gives children “the opportunity to experience raising their own animal.”

Red Barn has discovered that the scramble is subject to USDA regulations. “They have to get licensed and inspected,” Crippen says. “Many of the regulations are for the protection and safety of the rabbits.” And she says she was told the rodeo only recently applied for the license, so she’s not sure how they will get approved in time. 

Crippen emailed the club in May, asking that this year’s event be removed, saying she has heard from PETA and other groups that want to protest the scramble. Crippen wrote that Red Barn has tried to discourage protest and “we prefer a professional approach to this disagreement.”

The riding club responded with a letter from attorney Milton E. Gifford, who alleges that Crippen’s email “threatened that there would be protests and picketing.” He tells her that she does “not have the right to videotape any portion of the rodeo” and calls her email “veiled threats” and says she will “be held personally liable for intentional interference with business relations.” Fisher says, “I and our board consider Red Barn and its members to be cruel, hurtful and a threat to our families.”

Scott Beckstead, Oregon director for the Humane Society of the United States, has been supporting Crippen’s efforts to end the scramble. He says, “It is our position that this event is inherently cruel to the rabbits, and promotes unhealthy attitudes about pet ownership by awarding live animals as ‘prizes.’ Rabbits are delicate, sensitive little creatures, and turning them loose in a rodeo arena to be chased by a throng of children subjects them to an unreasonable risk of terror, shock and injury.”

Beckstead says that rabbits are the third most common animal at shelters and humane societies, and events such as the scramble strain those resources. Crippen and Beckstead have met with Faye Stewart, the Lane County commissioner from Cottage Grove, and Crippen spoke to the County Commission on June 4 about her concerns over the animal scramble. Fisher says CGRC is working with the local Humane Society chapter to improve the event.