By: David M. Higgins II

Punxsutawney, Pa. – Ahead of Groundhog Day, PETA sent a letter this morning urging The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club to retire Phil and another Punxsutawney groundhog to a reputable sanctuary and start using a cutting-edge animatronic groundhog that could actually predict the weather using artificial intelligence instead.

“Gentle, vulnerable groundhogs are not barometers,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA is offering the club a win-win situation: Breathe life into a tired tradition and finally do right by a long-suffering animal.”

Punxsutawney Groundhog Club President Bill Deeley talked to the Punxsutawney Spirit late Tuesday and said he had not read PETA’s letter, but he would “invite them to come to Punxsutawney and see how Phil is treated.”

”As I’ve said in the past, Phil lives better than the average child in Western Pennsylvania,” Deeley said.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” and which opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview—notes that groundhogs are prey animals who naturally avoid humans. They enjoy engaging in species-specific behavior such as digging, burrowing, foraging, and hibernating, all of which Phil is currently unable to do in his Plexiglas box at the local library.

Deeley claimed “PETA wants to piggyback off of his (Phil’s) fame for their own publicity” and added, “I think the crowd for this year’s Groundhog Day could be one of the largest ever.”

PETA’s letter to Punxsutawney Groundhog Club President Bill Deeley follows.

January 28, 2020

Bill Deeley, President
The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club

Dear Mr. Deeley,

Times change. Traditions evolve. It’s long overdue for Phil to be retired.

As a prey species, groundhogs actively avoid humans. Being in close proximity to the public causes these animals great stress. When Phil is dragged out of his hole and held up to flashing lights and crowds, he has no idea what’s happening. Being relegated to a library “habitat” for the other days of the year doesn’t allow him or the other groundhog there to dig, burrow, or forage. It’s no kind of life for these animals.

Using technologically advanced electromechanical devices such as animatronics instead of living animals is more popular than ever. We even have the technology to create an animatronic groundhog with artificial intelligence (AI) that could actually predict the weather. An AI Phil would renew interest in Punxsutawney, generating a great deal of buzz, much like Sony’s robot dog “Aibo,” which walks, plays, misbehaves, and responds to commands. By creating an AI Phil, you could keep Punxsutawney at the center of Groundhog Day but in a much more progressive way. Talk about taking your town’s annual tradition in a fresh and innovative direction!

Today’s young people are born into a world of terabytes, and to them, watching a nocturnal rodent being pulled from a fake hole isn’t even worthy of a text message. This is a generation whose members book rides on their smartphones and will never walk into a bank to deposit a check. Ignoring the nation’s fast-changing demographics might well prove the end of Groundhog Day.

We’d be happy to make recommendations for a sanctuary that would welcome Phil and the other Punxsutawney groundhog. Instead of working at cross-purposes, let’s collaborate to create a sunny future. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours truly,

Ingrid Newkirk, President

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...