For Immediate Release:
February 2, 2022
Megan Wiltsie 202-483-7382
Milltown, N.J. – Following news that the groundhog Milltown Mel died shortly before this year’s Groundhog Day event, PETA sent a letter today to John McNamara—“chief wrangler” and owner of the funeral home where Mel was kept—offering condolences on the loss of Mel and urging McNamara not to replace him with another live groundhog, as he reportedly plans to do.
Instead, PETA asks the organizers to consider an animatronic groundhog with artificial intelligence that could actually predict the weather, a groundhog costume (which a human could choose to wear), or a persimmon tree whose seeds could be checked for the forecast. Any of these prognosticators would help Milltown celebrate Groundhog Day without dragging a shy, sensitive animal out of hibernation, transporting him to an unfamiliar location, and subjecting him to distressing loud crowds, bright lights, and human handling.
“Just as whaling towns in New England celebrate now without harming animals, we hope Milltown will modernize, recognize society’s belated respect for wildlife, and end the practice of turning groundhogs into captive props,” says PETA President Ingrid Newkirk. “PETA stands ready to help the town honor Mel’s memory by establishing itself as a trendsetting and humane Groundhog Day destination that shows respect for these remarkable animals.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
PETA’s letter to McNamara follows.
February 2, 2022
Bronson & Guthlein Funeral Home
Dear Mr. McNamara:
I’m writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—PETA entities have more than 9 million members and supporters globally, including many in New Jersey—to offer our condolences on the loss of Milltown Mel and in response to news that you’re trying to find a new groundhog to replace him for 2023. We strongly urge you to honor his memory and respect all wildlife by ending this tradition. We ask that you please hear us out and consider seeking alternative entertainment, using a robotic groundhog or a costumed human (who had a choice whether to participate) as your groundhog prognosticator. Here’s why:
As a prey species, groundhogs are shy, sensitive animals who avoid humans at all costs, if they can. Dragging them out of hibernation and transporting them to an unfamiliar location where they may be in close proximity to a crowd of people inarguably causes them significant stress. As if that weren’t enough, groundhogs can transmit zoonotic pathogens to humans, and they’re believed to be highly susceptible to the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the current pandemic. This situation poses a safety risk to groundhogs and their handlers and could increase the risk of illness from infectious diseases. And with the blaring voice of an announcer and hooting and hollering from the audience only feet away from the groundhog, these events are frightening and distressing to them, as these animals have highly sensitive hearing. With all due respect, regardless of the intent of this exhibit, the message conveyed to the public is irresponsible and condones the inhumane treatment of animals.
There are plenty of excellent ways for Milltown to make a name for itself. Please consider an animatronic groundhog with artificial intelligence that could actually predict the weather, a contest for best groundhog costume, or even a persimmon tree to plant; you could hold an event where you check the seeds annually to determine the season’s weather.
Respectfully, we ask that you please stop exploiting live wildlife, for the sake of humans and other animals alike. We look forward to hearing from you. Thank you for your consideration.
Very truly yours,