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.
A robotic groundhog would also not be able to communicate its prognostication to the president of the club who claims to be the only person in the world to speak "groundhogese."
"I couldn't talk to a robot," Deeley said. "And the robot couldn't talk groundhogese."
For groundhog lovers who are unwilling to spend a cold night waiting for Punxsutawney Phil to emerge from his burrow, organizers this year are for the first time offering to text the prognostication to people's cell phones.
More than 15,000 people have signed up to receive the alert.