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PETA wants to replace famous groundhog Punxsutawney Phil with an animatronic replica

January 27, 2010 |  8:44 pm

Punxsutawney PhilIf there's one organization that loves animatronic technology more than Disney, it's definitely People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

The controversial animal-rights group -- which just a few months back asked the University of Georgia to replace its recently deceased bulldog mascot with a robotic one over concerns for a real dog's welfare -- is at it again. This time around, PETA's target is a seemingly innocuous band of revelers: The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Yup -- PETA wants to take Punxsutawney Phil away from Gobbler's Knob and give the little guy a dignified retirement at an animal sanctuary. In his place, you guessed it: A robot groundhog.

Gemma Vaughan, PETA's animals in entertainment specialist, fired off a letter to groundhog club president William Deeley this week, asking for his promise that the group will forgo the use of real rodents in future Groundhog Day celebrations. Little Phil, Vaughan wrote, is a pretty unhappy fellow, "forced to be on display year round at the local library and is denied the ability to prepare for and enter yearly hibernation." Groundhogs are typically shy creatures, Vaughan goes on to explain, and they can become easily upset when confronted by throngs of people, loud noises and camera flashes. 

Interestingly, Phil made several attempts to escape his home at the Punxsutawney Library last year, perhaps yearning for the greener pastures of rodent retirement. His fellow prognosticating groundhog, a resident of the Staten Island Zoo named Charles G. Hogg ("Staten Island Chuck" to his friends), seemed similarly displeased with his career as a weatherman when he bit New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during a 2009 Groundhog Day celebration. (Bloomberg wasn't badly injured, but he did appear to bear Chuck some ill will, referring to him at a news conference later as a "terrorist rodent that might very well have been trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan.")

So maybe PETA's onto something when it suggests that Phil isn't exactly living the high life?  Deeley scoffs at that notion; he told the Associated Press that the famous groundhog is "being treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania" and, further, is inspected every year by the state's agriculture department.

According to PETA executive vice president Tracy Reiman, an animatronic Phil "would attract new and curious tourists" to Punxsutawney's annual event. We're not sure about all that, but we'd like to take this opportunity to propose an alternate plan: Phil (who, if you believe his press, has been making predictions for more than 120 years and could probably use a rest) can retire to a sanctuary and simply alert his fans to the coming of spring via text message. 

He's planning on doing that anyway, the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club announced this year. And a text-messaging groundhog, strange as it may seem, is still far preferable to a creepy, robotic one. Are we right, or are we right?

RELATED:
No money for a bronze Col. Sanders statue? No problem, says PETA: Make it out of chicken feces
PETA to Pope Benedict XVI: Veganize the Vatican

-- Lindsay Barnett

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Photo: Handler John Griffiths holds Phil after removing him from his stump at Gobbler's Knob on Groundhog Day 2009.  Credit: Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press

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