pemstrongThe LA Times/strong/em/p
pBy Tamara Jones/p
blockquotepFriends of Animals state director Edita Birnkrant said she was unable to get through to the mayor or fire chief to make her matching-funds offer./p/blockquote
blockquotep”The town clerk told me, ‘You don’t understand, every official in this village is 100% behind this event. Our values, our way of life, our culture, is about hunting.’/p/blockquote
blockquotep”I’m pretty sure if we had offered $100,000, they wouldn’t have canceled it.”/p/blockquote
pFor the last six years, the volunteer fire department of rural Holley, N.Y., has raised money for new equipment by sponsoring a hunting contest to see who could shoot the fattest squirrel. Other than some concerns that cheaters might pack squirrels with rocks before weigh-in, the event has always gone off without a hitch./p
pUntil now./p
pThis year, the squirrels have gone viral, and the social media campaign to stop Holley’s seventh annual “Squirrel Slam” on Saturday has turned into full-fledged cultural warfare between Americans who feed squirrels and Americans who serve them in pot pies with sherried mushrooms./p
pPassions are running so high that the FBI had to be called in to investigate death threats against “the whole village board, the police, the firefighters” and virtually every official in the one-square-mile village, according to Police Chief William Murphy, who noted that he neither hunts nor eats squirrels himself./p
pIn the pro-squirrel camp are animal activists, wildlife rehabilitators, a state senator, gun opponents, a New Age minister in Texas who heals wounded squirrels through Reiki massage, and a small subculture of pet lovers eager to spread the word about the unique joys of “homesquirreling.”/p
pThrough Facebook postings, online petitions and up to 3,000 emails a day to Holley officials, the squirrel advocates have tried to persuade the fire department to cancel the slam, which offers cash prizes of up to $200 to two-person teams whose five-squirrel limit weighs the most. (“No internal packing or soaking of squirrels for added weight!!!” the rules state.)/p
pOf particular ire to hunt opponents is a new category this year offering a special prize to participants under the age of 14./p
pIn addition to cash awards for dead squirrels, the slam will raffle off rifles, including a semiautomatic .22-caliber assault-style gun similar to one Connecticut police found in the arsenal of the Sandy Hook school shooter ““ a fact that has further incensed the squirrel advocates./p
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