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Animal rights activists are demanding that St. PatrickÔ??s Church in Stephensville cancel a pig wrestling event planned for Sunday. / Post-Crescent Media

STEPHENSVILLE, Wis. -- The Outagamie County Sheriff's Department will be keeping an eye on a church's pig wrestling event this weekend that is drawing national criticism from people concerned for animal rights.

Despite tens of thousands of people calling for the event's cancellation, Capt. Mike Jobe doesn't anticipate the long-standing Pig Rassle will draw a big protest, but says deputies will step in if tensions rise during the Sunday event.

"What they're doing is not illegal," Jobe said Friday morning. "We'll be monitoring the situation and assessing. I'm not going to have a standing army up there to protect the pig wrestlers. We'll react to whatever presents itself."

As of Friday afternoon, an online petition at change.org had almost 45,000 signatures calling for the cancellation of the Pig Rassle in Stephensville, an unincorporated community about 15 miles northwest of Appleton, Wisconsin.

"A petition is a petition. It's not a legal document," Jobe said. "The church has rights too. They can do what's legal."

The event - part of the community's 44th annual Roundup Days hosted by St. Patrick Parish - is a fundraiser for the Roman Catholic parish and also includes Mass, dinner, parade, raffles and a live band.

The petition, posted by Global Conservation Group of Watertown, says the pigs are "punched in the face, kicked, body-slammed, jumped on, yelled at and thrown into a bucket." It also calls the Pig Rassle "illegal animal fighting" and cites Wisconsin law on crimes against animals.

Ken Bilgrien, a deacon at St. Patrick, disputed the claims against the long-standing event and insisted it is not an animal fight. A statement posted on the church's website says the parish does not condone animal abuse.

"We fill the stands with hundreds of people. Are you kidding that our own parishioners would allow us to pound the pig in the head with a hammer?" Bilgrien said. "In 44 years, we've never injured a pig."

The parish also cleared the event with the sheriff's department and double-checked with the state attorney general that it remains legal. Pig wrestling events occur in other parts of Wisconsin and throughout the country.

"It's strictly fun," Bilgrien said. "We do have two to three adult men, usually pretty strong guys, they're in there not only to be sure the contestants are safe, but also for the pigs."

Shirley Manson, lead singer of the rock band Garbage that was formed in Madison, wrote in a statement that "Wisconsin has a special place in my heart since my band Garbage got its start there. We are better than this unnecessary and abusive activity. Please cancel the Roundup Pig Rassle immediately and permanently."

Melissa Tedrowe, the state director of The Humane Society of the United States, also criticized the event.

"St. Patrick Parish's planned 'Pig Rassle' does not convey the Catholic church's spirit of compassion. Animals can endure serious physical and psychological trauma during such activities, and forcing animals to suffer for entertainment's sake is wrong. The church should cancel this needless event and find a form of entertainment that is in line with Wisconsin's values," Tedrowe said in a statement.

The Pig Rassle is one of the Roundup Days most popular events, Bilgrien said. In a mud pit, teams have 45 seconds to touch some part of a pig to the top of a barrel. Local farmers lend pigs to the event and a different pig is used by each team. The fire department hoses mud off the pigs once the 45 seconds is up. Water misters and shade are also used to keep the animals cool.

Due to the state's pig disease-control rules, once the animal leaves the farm it cannot return, so all the pigs used in the event will go to market on Monday, Bilgrien said.

Julie Penshorn, of Waupaca, signed the petition after she saw a link to it on Facebook. She plans to attend the event and take photos and video.

"I haven't been able to see if this is actually true. I hate this if it is," Penshorn said. "Anytime there's animal cruelty, I hate it. I just don't believe in cruelty like that."



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Protesters sling mud at Wisconsin 'Pig Rassle'

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