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Lines have been clearly drawn. For the past 15 years, the event has been held at Campshore Campground, a private facility on the Ohio River near Rising Star Casino, but widespread protest against Snapperfest in 2011 generated a great deal of negative attention.
Snapperfest promoters took "the utmost possible care to ensure there [were] no injuries" because "the turtles represent their livelihood and are the focus of the event," said TV reporter Rich Jaffe, who toured the campground but did not witness the competition.
Undercover video seems to contradict that statement. Those videos, showing event signage with Budweiser's name, so alarmed Michael Lourie, director of corporate communications for Anheuser-Busch, that he issued a statement:
"Neither Anheuser-Busch nor our local independent wholesaler is a sponsor of Snapperfest. We had no knowledge of the banner until it was brought to our attention after the event. For more than a century, we have prided ourselves on our reputation for treating animals with respect – from animal protection to animal rescue and rehabilitation to wildlife habitat preservation."
Others go even further. "There's strictly no need to torture animals for entertainment," Lennox says. "We need to be done with that."
"Snapperfest is an event where cruelty to turtles is obvious," La Prees said. "I can't think of any event with other wildlife that would be allowed to conduct such a shocking contest. This event must stop."
Calling Snapperfest "indefensibly stupid, dangerous and life-threatening," Zickefoose added, "We don't want to stop their festival. We just want to stop them from handling turtles. Put them on display in tanks, but don't use wildlife as toys."
Campground owner Tim Sizemore, considers the event "good, clean fun," and rebuked animal rights activists who, he said, "have nothing better to do but send 60,000 emails against us."
Dillard underscores ALDF's position that "this is not about animal rights; it's common decency not to mistreat animals."
Sizemore's assertion that the police told him they're "not doing anything wrong" is substantiated by Ohio County Auditor Connie Smith, who said, "The cops say they're not breaking any laws."
Aurora Police Chief Bryan Field said in a statement that the event falls outside of the jurisdiction of the Aurora Police Department.
Complaining about the flood of emails and voicemails the county commissioners received last year, Smith added, "We have no say over it. We have more important things to worry about."
Now DNR has to worry about it. The petition has been assigned to committee for review by the natural resources commission, although DNR counselor Clark continues to believe the petitioners want more than the department can do.
"It's complicated because criminal code is involved. It's not as simple a task as the petition makes it." Nevertheless, he said, the petition "raises an interesting question of post-take treatment of animals. Maybe it's timely; we may need this."
The author is a member of PETA, an animal rights advocacy group.