The idea of humans going mano a mano with a four-legged animal is certainly nothing new. No doubt inspired by the debauchery of ancient Rome — where countless lions, bears, elephants, tigers, and other creatures died in games for human amusement within massive amphitheaters — today’s contests involving animals may be much less grand, but the oppression is the same. From bullfighting and rodeos to kangaroo boxing and lion “taming,” animals are unwilling participants in the trivial pursuit of entertainment.

Justin Connaher/

One of the lesser-known games with several variations is pig wrestling. One variation, held in locations throughout Wisconsin every year, calls for participants to catch a pig in a mud-filled pit and attempt to drop him or her into a barrel. There are both men’s and women’s divisions, and the team that gets the pig into the barrel in the shortest time wins. If you have any doubt about whether these events are inhumane, I urge you to study the faces of the pigs in the accompanying photos.

One group campaigning to stop this abuse is Alliance for Animals (AFA). If that name sounds familiar, it may be because last month AFA was instrumental in getting a judge to determine that UW-Madison officials may be subject to criminal penalties for fatal decompression experiments involving sheep. Based in Madison, the nonprofit now has its sights set on pig wrestling; they’ve conferred with an attorney and contacted event organizers throughout the state.

Lynn Pauly, co-director of AFA, says these contests are in violation of the Wisconsin Crimes Against Animals statute 951.08, which states that “No person may intentionally instigate, promote, aid or abet as a principal agent or employee, or participate in the earnings from, or intentionally maintain or allow any place to be used for a cockfight, dog fight, bullfight or other fight between the same or different kinds of animals or between an animal and a person. This section does not prohibit events or exhibitions commonly featured at rodeos or bloodless bullfights.”

“Since pig wrestling is between an animal and a person and is not commonly featured at rodeos or bloodless bullfights, we feel this is a crime against animals as per Wisconsin Law,” says Lynn. Moreover, she notes, not only are those who run or participate in pig wrestling competitions breaking the law, but a spectator of such an event is also in violation of Chapter 951 and could face felony charges.

So far, the Shawano County Fair, scheduled for Labor Day weekend, cancelled its pig-wrestling event shortly after receiving AFA’s letter.

James Roh/Daily Herald

Other organizers haven’t been as cooperative. “When the Stoughton Fair in our own Dane County did not cancel its event, we contacted Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard,” says Lynn. “Mr. Blanchard called upon Stoughton Police Department to investigate the planned event, and based on their report said, ‘I do not believe that what is occurring here could be described as a ‘fight.’ I also strongly suspect that what is described here is akin to exhibitions commonly featured at rodeos. For these reasons, this office declines to take further action at this time in this connection.’”

Alliance for Animals was founded in 1983 shortly after thousands of animal rights activists marched past the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center during a nationwide protest. AFA is hoping to get a national group or a donor to help them financially so they can hire an attorney to file charges against organizers of pig-wrestling events.

“Compassion and kindness to animals must be taught by example,” says Lynn. “These events do just the opposite.”     

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