Sunday, August 15, 1999

Activists protest festival game of rodent roulette




BY TOM McCANN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Catholic church festivals, with their traditional fare of bozo buckets and free-throw contests, normally don't spark much controversy. But for the last few weeks, animal-rights activists have picketed the neighborhood parties, trying to stop churches from featuring one man's unusual game of rodent roulette.

        He goes by the name Mac, and he declines to give his last name, but on the weekends this retired butcher from Richmond becomes Ratman. Dozens of giddy kids and their parents crowded against his booth Friday at St. Bernadette Church in Amelia, trying to place bets before the wheel started spinning. From the overturned bowl at the center of the wheel, a fleshy tail poked out.

        With a shout, he gave the wheel a whirl, lifted the bowl, and a white rat scurried straight into the orange hole. The child with his quarter on orange let out a high-pitched scream.

        But just a few feet from the betting stood a small force of activists wearing signs on their shirts that read, “Would Jesus enslave rats just for kicks?” They told anyone who would listen that the man subjected the rats to a cruel game.

        “Usually the young girls listen to us and refuse to play the game,” said Elizabeth Farians, founder of the group Animals, People and the Earth (APE). “But it's hard to make most people see how much these animals are being exploited. And it's hard to defend rats in particular. They're universally hated.”

        For the last 20 years, Mac has been a fixture at church festivals and VFW parties. He said he has never received any complaints about his game until this year, when protesters greet him at each event he works.

        Last week eight protesters handed out leaflets at the road leading to St. John's Catholic Church in West Chester. But at St. Bernadette, the activists protested next to the booth for the first time.

        Mrs. Farians questions whether he cares for his rats properly and says that the game itself subjects the animals to abuse.

        “Everyone is yelling and screaming at the poor little rat to get in the hole. He's brainwashed to run at the sound of a bell. And they spin him and spin him over and over,” she said. “He's all dizzy and dazed and scared.”

        That's nonsense, responds Mac. “The rats can't get dizzy because they're covered up, and I take excellent care of them. As for the other complaints, they're just crazy.”

        APE protests any game or entertainment that features live animals, including other festival favorites like turtle races and lobbing balls into bowls with swimming goldfish. Two weeks ago, they picketed the UniverSoul Circus for teaching animals to do tricks.

        “What's most disturbing about the rat game, though, is that animals are being exploited on church grounds, the place where compassion toward animals should be taught,” Mrs. Farians said.

        Festival officials at St. Bernadette declined to comment about the game.

        But Mac said he will continue taking his rats on the road, and no pickets are going to stop him.

        “They don't scare me,” Mac said. “And if I see them going into my garage to set my rats free, I told police I'm going to run for my gun.”

       



Hit-skip driver gives up
What do we do with surplus?
What readers said
GOP taps Portman to open tax debate
Family ledger a precious record
Family's history rises from slavery
'And the slaves were set free'
Women burned in acid attacks to get care here
Banks hold the gun in this stickup
- Activists protest festival game of rodent roulette
What if Buffett does waste away?
'Blair Witch' offers filmmakers hope
Where were you in '72?
Alleged fake ID maker arrested
Dimmer school means brighter future for Abby
'I did it' won't always merit lesser sentence
Introducing! The governor! (Yawn)
Readers get their turn to be heard
S-curve work alters traffic
Springer race wasn't meant to be
A postcard from that place where I find peace
Rocco to flex those molars
Chickens take roost in sculpture
CSO launches ad campaign
Ensemble interns gear up for year
GET TO IT
Like it or not, Boone County needs a sewage plant
At age 101, she's ahead of the trend
Billfold lost, but honesty wasn't
Creeks get a well-needed cleaning
Dogs keeping birds off runway
Exodus to Israel
Hamilton considers razing downtown building
Horse breeders fondly remember 'daddy' of Rocky Mountain line
Norwood gets Even Start grant
One Deters campaigns for another
Owner fights blight label
Retired executives share skills
TRISTATE DIGEST