COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. -- What started off as a family project to rescue rabbits led a Creswell mother and daughter on a crusade to ban an event they regarded as animal abuse at the Cottage Grove Rodeo.
And they got their wish -- sort of.
Heather Crippen and her 18-year-old daughter, Alex Crippen, heard about the "animal scramble" at the Cottage Grove Rodeo last year and decided to go see it firsthand. The two operate Red Barn Rabbit Rescue in Creswell -- a nonprofit group that cares for about 60 rabbits that have been abused or abandoned.
"We don't cry easily," Heather Crippen said, "but we were having a hard time watching."
Dozens of rabbits were hauled into a horse trailer, she said, and released into the rodeo ring at the event that's organized each year by the Cottage Grove Riding Club. At the count of three, scores of children charged, each trying to snag a rabbit to keep. Some children grabbed the animals by their fur, and a few stepped on them, she said.
"People are whooping and hollering and yelling for the kids to grab (the rabbits)," Heather Crippen said.
"The stress that the rabbits go through is ridiculous," Alex Crippen said.
The two drafted a Lane County ordinance that would ban such events. And they sent several letters and e-mails to the Cottage Grove Riding Club, asking the organization to end the animal scramble at the rodeo, which this year will take place Friday and next Saturday, July 13.
And there will be no bunnies at this year's scramble, Riding Club President Kelli Fisher said.
Instead, there will be chickens.
Children will again be allowed to go into the ring during the scramble and will try to grab a chicken that they can take home. But they will be required to walk instead of run when approaching the chickens, Fisher said.
The scramble also will feature a plastic egg hunt, with 25 of the eggs containing certificates that will allow kids to win a free bunny, Fisher said. The other eggs will contain either money or rodeo coupons.
Because of its decades-long tradition in the Cottage Grove community, the Riding Club doesn't plan to end the scramble anytime soon, Fisher said. The scramble teaches children responsibility because they have to care for the animal they catch in the event, she said. The event also gives the animals a home, she added.
"There's something to be said about heritage and tradition," Fisher said. "How is it inhumane? Obviously, we didn't kill the rabbits."
While "extremely delighted" that this year's scramble will not feature rabbits, Heather Crippen said substituting them with chickens sidesteps the issue.
If the Riding Club won't end the event, Heather Crippen hopes that Lane County will.
Red Barn Rabbit Rescue last month drafted a proposed ordinance that would ban giving away small animals -- including rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and fowl -- as prizes in competitions or games.
Heather Crippen testified before the Lane County Board of Commissioners on June 4, urging commissioners to adopt the ordinance.
County spokeswoman Anne Marie Levis said she expects commissioners to review a draft ordinance and possibly take a vote by the end of the month.
The Lane County Animal Services Advisory Committee, meanwhile, plans to discuss the ordinance at its meeting on Monday, Levis said.
As written, the ordinance would ban rodeos from featuring animals other than equine, cattle, sheep, goats and dogs. The ordinance also would ban dying or coloring small animals' fur for commercial purposes.
The Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene and the Humane Society of Cottage Grove, which also has worked to ban the scramble, support the ordinance. Jeannie Peterson, vice president of the Humane Society of Cottage Grove, said the organization has tried for three years to ban the scramble.
The organization offered to pay $300 for a coin scramble, where children would try to collect money instead of animals, Peterson said. Rodeo organizers indicated that they might consider a coin scramble in addition to, but not in lieu of, a scramble involving animals.
Heather Crippen said she also offered to pay for an alternative event that would not use animals. She said she has not heard back from the Riding Club.
Although Peterson appreciates the Riding Club's changes to this year's scramble, she said the humane society does not support any animal scramble -- regardless of whether bunnies or chickens are involved. "Humane societies put a lot of effort into education and stressing the importance of preparing to get a pet," Peterson said. "It's a life commitment. It's not something you do on a whim."
She acknowledged that there are divergent opinions on the matter.
"Riding Club board members aren't waking up and thinking, `Oh, boy. Let's go torture a rabbit or chicken,'?" she said. "They think it's a good thing. They think they're helping animals find a home."