This Sunday is Groundhog Day when the masses will descend upon Gobbler’s Knob in Punxsutawney, Penn. to see if the iconic woodchuck Punxsutawney Phil will predict an early spring or six more weeks of winter. However, if the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had their way, we’d all be waiting to hear from a groundhog robot.
In an open letter to Bill Deeley, the President of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk wrote the following:
“Times change. Traditions evolve. It’s long overdue for Phil to be retired.
As a prey species, groundhogs actively avoid humans. Being in close proximity to the public causes these animals great stress. When Phil is dragged out of his hole and held up to flashing lights and crowds, he has no idea what’s happening. Being relegated to a library “habitat” for the other days of the year doesn’t allow him or the other groundhog there to dig, burrow, or forage. It’s no kind of life for these animals.
Using technologically advanced electromechanical devices such as animatronics instead of live animals is more popular than ever. We even have the technology to create an animatronic groundhog with artificial
intelligence (AI) that could actually predict the weather. An AI Phil would renew interest in Punxsutawney, generating a great deal of buzz, much like Sony’s robot dog “aibo,” which walks, plays, misbehaves, and responds to commands. By creating an AI Phil, you could keep Punxsutawney at the center of Groundhog Day but in a much more progressive way. Talk about taking your town’s annual tradition in a fresh and innovative direction!
Today’s young people are born into a world of terabytes, and to them, watching a nocturnal rodent being pulled from a fake hole isn’t even worthy of a text message. This is a generation whose members book rides on their smart phones and will never walk into a bank to deposit a check. Ignoring the nation’s fast-changing demographics might well prove the end of Groundhog Day.
We’d be happy to make recommendations for a sanctuary that would welcome Phil and the other Punxsutawney groundhog. Instead of working at cross-purposes, let’s collaborate to create a sunny future. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Deeley has yet to respond and likely won’t, but perhaps PETA would’ve gotten better traction in their letter if they simply stated, “This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You’re hypocrites, all of you!” Sure, that action goes against everything PETA stands for, but I just couldn’t really resist a Groundhog Hog day reference. Really, who can this time of year?