Representatives of People for the Ethical Treament of Animals (PETA) have sent an impassioned letter to Louisa County High School Principal Lee Downey urging him to end the school’s tradition of having live lions at home football games.
LCHS has used caged live lions during a majority of its home games since the tradition was started in 2005. Other animals, such as tigers, have also made occasional appearances.
The Central Virginian obtained a copy of the letter mailed on Oct. 16, just six days after Louisa’s 56-26 upset win over Western Albemarle during LCHS’ homecoming.
The letter was written by Nina Kahn, a coordinator with TeachKind, which is the humane-education division of PETA, according to the organization’s website.
“A rowdy football game is no place for a stressed, dangerous wild animal,” PETA Director of Youth Outreach and Campaigns Marta Holmberg said in the letter’s preface.
“Using an animal as a prop is not only cruel but also dangerous,” Kahn wrote in the letter. “An animal in distress will defend himself or herself at the drop of a hat. No amount of training or experience can stop an apex predator from acting out his or her natural behavior.”
The letter stated that PETA was alerted of the tradition from a “concerned area resident.” Brittany Peet, a counsel representative for PETA, would not disclose if the complaint came from a Louisa resident, but did say that PETA will be monitoring the situation closely in upcoming weeks.
“As long as students and members of the public are allowed within arms reach of an apex predator who could kill them with a single swipe of their claw, a huge risk exists,” Peet said.
Kahn’s letter cited numerous other factors in their urging of LCHS to end the tradition, such as the loud noises caused by fireworks, which are also frequently shot off at games.
“Regardless of how long they’ve been kept in captivity, animals such as tigers and lions are distressed and terrified by the overwhelming noise, crowds and confusion they experience at such events as sports games – as well as by the jarring sounds of fireworks and cannons that are used at events such as yours,” Kahn said.
The animal’s handler, Dr. Jim Lavender, said he respectfully disagrees with PETA’s claims. Lavender, who preaches at Discovery United Methodist Church in Richmond, has raised adopted animals for a majority of his 40-year career as a pastor. Many of the animals are used as a part of his ministry, and Lavender said he is licensed by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and has been for more than 25 years.
“We don’t hit our animals, we don’t abuse our animals and we don’t confine them unnecessarily,” Lavender said. “They have a fabulous diet. All of that won’t satisfy an animal rights extremist though.”
Lavender first started bringing his lion, known as Bubba, in 2005 at the request of LCHS football head coach Mark Fischer and then-athletic director Doug Straley. Bubba’s appearance was one of the many steps the school took in their process of formulating one of the most respected Friday night atmospheres in the country.
To read the entire story, see the Oct. 23 edition of The Central Virginian.