RALEIGH, N.C. (CN) - PETA sued North Carolina to try to stop its wildlife agency from allowing a 'Possum Drop celebration in Brasstown.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claims the state's Wildlife Resources Commission "lacks the authority to issue a permit or license for the possession and exhibition of a live at the Opossum Drop," a New Year's eve tradition in Brasstown, near the Georgia state line.
It's the second year in a row PETA has sued the state for the Opossum Drop, which is staged by convenience store operator Clay Logan, who is not a party to the lawsuit.
PETA sued the state in January 2012, claiming that though Logan was not trained or qualified to work with opossums, the Wildlife Commission created a special permit so he could hold the event.
PETA won that round, when the court ruled the commission did not have the authority to issue Logan a permit to possess an opossum.
Logan has been organizing the alcohol-free event for about 20 years, according to the Asheville Citizen-Times.
In addition to the 'Possum Drop" the festivities include bluegrass music and a contest in which men dressed in drag compete to be crowned "Miss Possum Queen."
Last year, after the litigation, a stuffed animal rather than a live opossum was used.
On a website Logan maintains for the event, he states: "We treat our little friend with respect, hold him in awe, and do not inflict any injury or traumatize God's crease of the night."
Wikipedia reports: "Animal is lowered carefully to prevent the occurrence of injury or trauma," and, "The opossum is not actually 'dropped' as with most events of this kind. Federal and state animal permits are obtained in advance and the opossum is released afterwards."
PETA describes the even differently, in its new lawsuit in Wake County Court: "At the event, a live opossum is typically confined in a small clear Plexiglas box and hoisted approximately 20 to 40 feet into the air with a pulley rope. The animal remains suspended for approximately two hours, exposed to firework, loud music amplified by loudspeakers, floodlights and flash photography, and the sounds and glare of muskets and a cannon being fired, while hundreds (or several thousands, according to Logan's media interviews) of people clap, sing, laugh, shout and cheer loudly, accompanied by a range of shrill and high-pitched noisemakers.
"Although the promoters of the event have attempted to characterize it as a 'cultural tradition' in which the opossum is celebrated as the guest of honor, it is more accurate to say that it constitutes the public tormenting of a defenseless wild animal and promotes cruelty and disrespect for wildlife. The event typically includes the showing of videos in which the animal is held by the tail and dragged on a leash, and comedic routines and songs about opossums being road-killed, skinned and eaten."
Describing the New Year's Eve 2011 'Possum Drop that sparked its first lawsuit, PETA says: "The event culminated at midnight by 'dropping' the opossum's cage amid more loud music, crowds cheering, clapping and using various noise-makers and a large fireworks display lasting several minutes, filling the air with loud noise, glaring lights and dense smoke from the pyrotechnic explosions.
"After the cage has been finally lowered, Logan allows people to crowd around to take flash pictures at close range, often spinning the cage and teasing the animal, poking their fingers into the box and putting their faces up against the side of the box.
"After the event, the opossum is purportedly released back into the wild, although Logan is fond of telling the public: 'Once we drop him and the crowd leaves, we turn him loose. He runs across the road, and we run over him and eat him for New Year's dinner.'"
Despite its first-round legal victory, PETA says it remains concerned, in light of comments it attributes to Assistant Attorney General Norman Young during the hearings.
At that time, PETA claims, Young told the court the litigation could have been avoided had the animal rights group notified the commission of its concerns in a timely fashion. Waiting until after the permit was issued left the agency without the time to evaluate the "applicable facts and permitting requirements," Young said, according to the new lawsuit.
PETA also expresses dismay over Young's contention that the Wildlife Commission is unfamiliar with the event, which in addition to local coverage has been featured on CBS and The New York Times; and with his assertion that the commission is ignorant about basic details about opossums and their responses to stress.
"The affidavits and reports from five veterinarians with more than 125 years combined experience in wildlife medicine and numerous leading wildlife rehabilitators and educators in the United States and Canada who collectively have cared for well over 14,000 opossums, provides the Agency with ample grounds to determine that exhibiting a live opossum at the Opossum Drop causes the animals to experience extreme fear and terror, constitutes animal cruelty, and cannot conceivable be said to be 'in the interest of the human treatment' of the animal," PETA says.
"Logan previously admitted under oath that he has no qualifications, expertise, special education or training in opossum husbandry, wildlife rehabilitation, veterinary care or animal behavior. Virtually everything Logan has don in the past to (or with) opossums is contrary to the principles and practices that the agency requires of their licensed opossum caretakers in North Carolina to ensure the health and welfare of a captive opossum."
PETA is declaratory judgment and an injunction.
It is represented by Calley Gerber with the Gerber Animal Law Center in Raleigh.
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