The annual Hazzard County Squirrel Slam, a hunting event set to be held this Saturday Feb. 16, in the town of Holley, New York is drawing the ire of both animal advocates, powerhouse animal rights groups, and a State Senator.
Currently in its seventh year, the Holley Fire Department Squirrel Slam event pits together parents and children in a squirrel shooting contest that looks to bag the heaviest grey and red squirrels in the area. The event -- which is held to raise money for the Holley Fire Department, could impact between 2,500-4,200 squirrels activists say.
Despite several petitions, pressure from Dem. State Senator Tony Avella, plus local groups and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the hosts of the event still appear reluctant to cancel the slam.
Letters, phone calls, and e-mails from thousands of people have had little impact on the Fire Department. And continued pleas to Fire Chief Pete Hendrickson, asking him to "reconsider" the event, are no longer even meriting a response.
The main problem that animal advocates have with the squirrel slam is that there seems to be no purpose to the killing, other than for killing's sake. Furthermore animal rights groups say, children as young as 12 years old are being encouraged to participate in a contest that kills for cash and other prizes.
In addition to cash prizes, a raffle will be held to give away several guns, including an AR-15 style "Assault Weapon" in .22 caliber, a similar version of the assault weapon seized in the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newton, Connecticut last month.
In speaking to Times Union.com, District 11 (Queens) Senator Avella called the planned slam, "Bad on so many levels." He also criticized the decision to include preteen hunters in the event.
In a press conference Feb. 11, 2013, at the Legislative Office Building in Albany, NY, Avella said:
A poor little squirrel getting a nut and probably coming up to the individual to try and be friendly — and then the kid pulls out a gun and shoots it.
Avella was joined at the conference by speaker Edita Birnkrant, the NY director of Friends of Animals, a group also campaigning to stop the slam.
Joy Benson, who is heading the Halt the Holley Fire Department Squirrel Slaughter campaign on Facebook, told Digital Journal:
Their main argument is that it is a "fundraiser" and it is being promoted as a "bonding opportunity" between adults and children. They have been doing this for six years, this is the seventh.
Benson references an article about the impact on kids written by author Gay Bradshaw, Ph.D. Called 'Bang Bang, We All Fall Down'. Bradshaw, the author of Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity, says there are psychological ramifications for children that are awarded and offered money to use guns and kill.
In a letter to the Fire Chief, HSUS NY Director Brian Shapiro, wrote:
Declaring someone a “winner” for killing the most animals influences children and the wider community to believe that wildlife is unimportant and killing for a monetary prize is meritorious. The fact that baby squirrels can become orphaned by this event makes it all the more distasteful.
But Republican State Sen. George Maziarz of the 62nd Senate District -- and thus Holley, gave his full support to the event. He told the Times Union, "I think it’s a great fundraiser for the Holley Fire Department."
In response to Avella's concerns, Maziarz quipped, "It shows how our downstate colleagues don’t understand upstate New York. Our lifestyle is very much hunting, fishing and shooting sports."
But says Benson, the squirrel slam doesn't even need to happen. She told Digital Journal:
An account was set up and offered to the City of Holley to call off the event. That account has over $4,100 in it. They refused it.
It remains to be seen whether the Holley Fire Department will push ahead with the event on Saturday, but if so, it won't transpire without protest. Friends of Animals (FoA), the international animal advocacy group founded in New York in 1957, plans to descend on Holley this Saturday to demonstrate against the event.
They will be joined by two local groups: Animal Allies of Western NY, and Animal Rights Advocates of Upstate New York, outside the Holley Fire Department from 3 pm - 6 pm.
It isn't just animal advocates that Holley Fire Department is drawing ire from. The United Supporters of the Fire Department (USFD), are also not happy about the event. The USFD raises support to send firefighters to training and provide life-saving equipment to fire departments. USFD President David Cook said of the event:
If you want to take your children hunting be my guest, if you want to give your child a gun be my guest, however when the Fire Department decided to sponsor a hunting event the USFD had a problem.
The law is very clear on this. Many things must be kept out of schools, government and yes the Fire Department. Fire Departments do not hunt they save lives. Firefighters are more than welcome to do what they want, however the Fire Department has an image to protect. The people have spoken and the Holley FD is not listening.
One thing is for sure, the USFD does not start campaigns to end squirrel hunts; instead we conduct investigations into the inner workings of a FD and the Government agency behind it. we follow the money and see who is actually benefiting from this event.
We look for hidden agendas then we start businesses in order to earn money to start a new higher trained Fire Department with better equipment that will serve and respect the needs and wishes of the citizens. And we will do it all without one single tax dollar. I implore the Holley Fire Chief to reconsider this fundraiser before it is too late.
Joy Benson, who has pooled six different petitions under one roof, agreed. She said:
"It is apparent to me that the town of Holley is not interested in humane ways to raise funds for their fire department. Many have reached out to them to offer assistance and yet, they were turned away. We are in the 21st Century with so many options and opportunities to raise awareness and teach children moral and ethical respect for life. To me, this is just insanity on a whole new level."