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Published Thursday, June 22, 2000, in the San Jose Mercury News

Piglet races draw objections

Activists say Fremont event gives false impression of pork industry

Mercury News

The city of Fremont will allow pig racing at its Fourth of July celebration this year, despite protests from animal rights activists that the event is cruel and gives a false impression of the pork industry.

City officials say the racing piglets -- 4 to 16 weeks old -- are treated so well that they are transported in an air-conditioned trailer and receive ice cream and cookies after crossing the finish line.

Members of the Ohlone Humane Society plan to hand out informational leaflets peacefully at the Independence Day event, which starts at noon in Central Park.

``It was no great surprise,'' said Nancy Lyon, a humane society member. ``I was disappointed that the city didn't have a higher consciousness about the responsibilities involved here. In my mind, they didn't choose the high road.''

Lyon and other activists claim that the event exploits the animals and portrays the piglets as happy critters. That's not the case, one animal rights activist said.

``Something like this pig racing act is more or less a deception to create in the public mind that pigs have a happy life and have a lot of fun when in fact 100 million of them are killed each year in the United States,'' said David Cantor, an investigator with Farm Sanctuary, a non-profit group that operates two large farm animal shelters and has 75,000 members nationwide.

``It's rare for any of them to experience any pleasure.''

Cantor said many pigs are penned in huge factory-like settings, where they stand on concrete floors, never see the sun and become so stir-crazy that they chew on the bars and bite each other's tails.

``The issues they raised are tied to the meat-producing industry; in fact this event has little to do with the meat-producing industry,'' said city Recreation Director Jack Rogers.

``They are not abusive to these animals in any manner . . . This does have entertainment value just like the movie `Babe' has some entertainment value.''

But Cantor said: ``If you look at it from the animals' perspective, they have no idea what's amusing about it . . . They'd just as soon lie around, sit in the sun for a while, eat and sleep.''

The Ohlone Humane Society first raised questions about the treatment of the animals, concerned that the piglets -- who do not sweat -- would suffer heatstroke from racing in the hot summer sun. But Lyon said that through discussions with the city, the humane society realized the vendor treats the animals well.

Fremont has contracted with Galt-based Cook's Racing Pigs to run the races. The company brings the animals to as many as 50 events a year throughout California and Arizona. Karen Cook, a co-owner, said they've never received a complaint or criticism in 15 years.

``The pigs' care is our No. 1 concern,'' Cook said. ``It's what we do. The animals are very important to us. If the animals aren't happy, I'm not happy. They get treated better than a lot of people I know.''

The pigs race about 10 times a day around a 90-foot horseshoe track. Cook said the piglets travel in a custom trailer equipped with air conditioning, heating, misting and sewer systems, and water and food dispensers. When the piglets become too large to fit into the starting gates, they are sold, many times to 4-H and Future Farmers of America members.

Contact Dennis Akizuki at dakizuki or (510) 790-7306.

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