Two children pursue a pig during a pig scramble event at the 2016 Skowhegan State Fair. A Readfield resident launched a petition against a similar event scheduled to take place Saturday. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

READFIELD – Animal activists are voicing concerns over a pig scramble scheduled to take place at Readfield Heritage Days on Saturday, but event officials insist it will be done in a safe way. 

An online petition to stop the event has been floating around social media and has garnered nearly 200 signatures in three days. Arielle Cousens, a Readfield resident, drafted the document, which states that “animals are not objects to be tortured for entertainment” and suggests the town promote a “humane” event for children, such as an obstacle course, instead. 

Event organizer Denis Price said he did not think the pig scramble would gain as much controversy as it has, but he told the activist groups and individuals that “he hears” them and that rules have been followed to ensure the event will be safe for the animals. 

A pig scramble is an event typically held at agricultural fairs where piglets are let loose in a pen and children try to catch them in a bag. If they catch the pig, they can often keep it. At Readfield’s event, they can either keep the pig or take home $50.  

“The idea is they catch it (the pig),” said Price, who is also on Readfield’s select board. “They are not yanking on it or putting it in a headlock. It’s one pig at a time and there are multiple heats. All of the rules have been followed.” 

In Maine, a pig (or calf) scramble is legal and governed by state statute. Price said Readfield organizers have followed every guideline. A permit must be obtained by the state and an application with the participant’s name must be submitted along with $10. 

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If the law is violated, it could cost up to $100. 

Additionally, the state has rules for the scramble itself, which Price said Readfield is abiding by, including:

• The person in charge of the event is responsible for the wellbeing of the animals before, during and after the event. 

• No lubricant can be used on the pig or contestant.

• Pigs must weigh at least 16 pounds for scrambles involving children between the ages of 8 to 10 and at least 22 pounds for children aged 10 to 12.

• Contestants cannot be over the age of 12.

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• The bags or sacks used must be burlap to allow the pigs to breathe.  

Despite the measures Readfield has taken, the Maine Animal Coalition believes the event is dangerous for the piglets. There will be 10 piglets. 

“The children (who participate) — they are not toddlers, they are big children, and they go running after the animals,” said Beth Gallie, president of the coalition. “They of course, are frightened. Imagine chasing a dog or a cat. They (children) don’t understand what they are doing — they sit on them and hurt the pig’s back, or worse, and then they grab them by the leg . . . it’s not animal-friendly.” 

Gallie said she is also worried about what will happen with the pigs after they are taken home and compared the event to an animal shelter giving away a cat in a raffle — it “doesn’t happen” she said. 

“Farm animals are huge, and they can put them in the shed or back yard, but think about all of the waste and cost to feed them,” she said. 

Price said the event has been popular among the residents of Readfield and that already, as of Friday, six children have signed up. Only children between the ages of 7 to 12 can participate, and they will be broken up into two age groups:  7 to 9 and 10 to 12. 

“You listen to and hear people’s concerns, but there’s a group of people here who want to do this and believe it promotes reasonable husbandry,” Price said.  

Readfield Heritage Days is a two-day event, starting Friday night and continuing at 7 a.m. Saturday. The pig scramble is set for 3 p.m. Saturday. The celebration concludes with fireworks on the beach at 9:15 p.m.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect that Arielle Cousens is a Readfield resident.

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