Groundhog Day organizers dismiss call for robot

Wed Jan 27, 2010 3:01pm EST
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By Jon Hurdle

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - Should America's most famous groundhog be replaced with a robot? Organizers of the annual Groundhog Day celebration don't think so.

Animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) called for the move to spare Punxsutawney Phil, who makes a "prognostication" on the length of winter, the glare of the spotlight when he emerges from his burrow.

"It's very ridiculous," said Bill Deeley, president of the Groundhog Club, which runs the event in western Pennsylvania.

But PETA says the dawn ceremony, which is attended by as many as 40,000 people, can be traumatizing for the groundhog that would normally be hibernating at this time of year.

"Groundhogs are typically shy animals and are likely to feel fear and stress when they are out of their burrows," PETA said in a statement. "Each year on Feb 2, Punxsutawney Phil is trotted out to face human handling and hundreds of noisy people, flashing lights and cameras."

But Deeley disagreed, saying groundhogs may be done hibernating and starting to emerge from their burrows to begin the mating season.

Deeley also defended the club against charges of mistreating Phil, saying he gets an annual medical checkup and lives in a zoo enclosure that is air conditioned in the summer and heated in the winter.

"He's treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania," Deeley added.   Continued...

<p>Weather prognosticating groundhog Punxsutawney Phil makes his annual prediction on Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, on the 123rd Groundhog Day, February 2, 2009. REUTERS/Jason Cohn</p>