By Lorraine Bennett
CNI Regional Staff
Clay Logan of Brasstown, N.C. is planning his annual New Years Eve party with a live opossum on the agenda. Logan had received a call from Raleigh where a Superior Court judge declined to second-guess state wildlife regulators who had issued a permit allowing Logan to use a live animal in the event.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) had filed suit in court to halt Logans yearly ritual of lowering a live opossum in a Plexiglas cage to the accompaniment of cheering New Years Eve revelers at Clays Corner Store in Brasstown.
PETA has argued that the lowering of the opossum in a cage amounts to cruelty to animals.
In November, Martina Bernstein, attorney with PETA in Washington, D.C., had said that PETA had provided the Wildlife Commission with the reasons why the opossum drop doesnt qualify for a permit, along with 100 exhibits showing the stress such an event could cause a captured animal.
At that time, PETA General Counsel Jeffrey S. Kerr said in a statement that the Wildlife Resources Commission was legally prohibited from issuing a permit or license to include a live opossum in a drop in direct violation of North Carolina law.
There are other ways to celebrate without cruelty to animals and according to experts, these highly sensitive animals suffer and even die after their release because of trauma, Kerr said.
Logan has organized the event for about two decades and made it a holiday tradition in Brasstown. The drop is a popular spoof on the glittering New Years Eve ball drop in New Yorks Times Square. Logan has steadfastly argued that the live opossum is not ill-treated or harmed in any way, and he added in November, Im not going to do anything illegal.
Monday afternoon he said he and a couple of friends would take a few dogs and go after an opossum soon. Theyre pretty easy to catch, he said. We want to get a pretty one.
At a hearing held Dec. 23, Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour ruled against efforts by PETA to block the Possum Drop even though a PETA lawyer argued that the lights, noise and crowds could wreck an opossums nerves and health even if it is released after the event.
The Associated Press reported PETA attorney Bernsteins comments :
In her perception, she will be surrounded by predators. They will be all around her. She will smell them, she will still be able to hear them, she will know that they are there. This is not a condition that a wild opossum by nature can withstand without significant harm.
The North Carolina General Assembly passed a law this year permitting licensed sportsmen to hold animals for display for an annual, seasonal, or cultural event.
Even though N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill last year permitting the popular drop to be held, the states taxpayers ended up footing the cost of legal fees in the battle with PETA. The tab taxpayers paid to PETA was $74,446.
On Dec. 23, WRAL TV in Raleigh reported that Logan still might not feature a live animal at the drop this year because a condition of the state permit requires that the opossum be placed in a box the size of a coffin, replete with a den where the animal can hide if it gets scared.
Violating this condition might mean penalties for Logan, WRAL reported.
Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 24, Logan conceded he is indeed building a new box with dimensions of about 3 x 3 x 6.
He said he has heard nothing from PETA about what next step the organization might take and calls to PETA from the Clay County Progress newspaper went unanswered.
Weve tried to contact PETA, Logan said. I believe theyve pulled a possum on us.