CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (Delmarva Now) — Following the recent death of a Chincoteague pony, PETA has sent a letter to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company asking the organization to end its Pony Penning week.
On July 26, PETA sent a letter asking the fire company to make 2018 the final year of Pony Penning and to "adopt humane fundraising and herd-management methods in the future," according to a news release. PETA had previously contacted the fire company about ending the swim and auction in May.
The letter was sent the same day a pony named Butterfly Kisses was killed when officials said it broke its neck after slipping and falling while being chased by another pony.
“This pony’s needless death is the latest proof that continuing to pen ponies and auction off their foals makes the Chincoteague fire department look increasingly backwards, reckless and cruel,” said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA president, in a news release. “PETA is calling on organizers to face up to the fact that times have changed and banish this sad spectacle to the history books before another pony is injured or dies.”
Denise Bowden, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company's spokeswoman, said Tuesday PETA's allegations are false as the pony was already in the pen and was not being chased into it.
"Just one of those freak things that happen, it could happen out in the wild. We are sorry it happened, but there was nothing anyone could’ve done to prevent it," Bowden said in a prepared statement.
"I think PETA has a lot more issues around the country than our very successful event that has been happening for 93 years," she continued. "Ponies live and die every day. Some are due to illness or accident or injury. Our track record speaks for itself on how well cared for these ponies are."
On Tuesday evening, Bowden posted a letter on the fire company's Facebook page.
"We are aware of the untruths that PETA has stated in their latest attempt to fool the general public about our Pony Penning events," Bowden wrote in the Facebook post. "In their last letter to us which by the way was sent to me through a newspaper reporter, it wasn‘t emailed to me or mailed to me (unless it’s at the post office as I write this), they claim that one of our mares, Butterfly Kisses, was “chased into” the pen. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was already in the pen and had been there for over 24hrs. We have eyewitnesses to prove otherwise. This is the same pen that she has been in numerous of times without incident."
Bowden continued, explaining how the ponies are cared for with vet visits, fed and watched over if they become ill or injured.
"Once again, while these ponies mean a great deal to the Fire Company, the town and the county financially, we are also human beings who see these gorgeous animals as the beautiful creatures they are and we handle them with the care and respect they deserve," she continued in the Facebook post. "If we did not do this event, these animals would end up overpopulating, eat themselves out of house and home, suffer diseases and injuries without any help at all. These are the facts about how we do what we do."
Bowden ended her letter saying the fire company is "good, fair and caring."
"I have personally been involved going on 29 years," she wrote. "There are many others that have been involved longer than I have and many younger ones coming up through the ranks. Until you have been here, seen it with your own eyes then we ask that you reserve your judgement until you do. I have done my homework and ask that PETA does theirs."
On Thursday, July 26, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company announced on its Facebook the pony Butterfly Kisses had died. The death followed the organization's annual Chincoteague Pony Swim and auction, held July 25 and 26.
"Don’t hardly know where to begin. We had a great swim and a great auction, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. I guess things going so smooth was too good to be true," the company wrote in a Facebook post on July 26. "I am so sad to have to tell you all that Butterfly Kisses tragically died this afternoon after a freak accident in the pen at the carnival grounds. Riptide was chasing her, as she was running she slipped, fell hard to the ground and slid into the fence breaking her neck."
Butterfly Kisses received immediate treatment, according to the Facebook post, but later died.
Here is the entire Facebook response from the fire company:
The PETA letter in its entirety is as follows:
Dear Ms. Bowden,
I’m writing again on behalf of PETA and our more than 6.5 million members and supporters worldwide, including thousands across Virginia, where our headquarters are, in response to the death of Butterfly Kisses. She died needlessly of a broken neck after being chased into a pen and left behind a now-motherless foal. Once again, we urge you to end the annual pony swim and auction and instead find humane ways to raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department’s important work while managing the pony herd’s size.
Butterfly Kisses’ death is more evidence that penning up wild ponies and auctioning off foals are reckless. Had she not been penned at the carnival grounds after the auction, she would still be alive. This is not the first time that a pony has died at the fairgrounds or the first death that has been written off as an “accident.” Reports going back decades discuss how frightening and stressful the ordeal is for these animals and how ponies have been seen penned without access to shade or water and hit with sticks.
While in theory a few auctioned ponies may go to good homes with families who have the money to take care of them, their fate is never certain after they are sold and there is the strong possibility that they may end up at slaughterhouses or neglected and starved as new guardians lose interest in them.
It’s time to reconsider what you are doing. Since this event’s inception, much has changed in the way that people view animals—who were once seen merely as commodities—and in the development of humane population-control methods. This pony swim is similar to other festivals, such as turkey drops and greased pig wrestling, that have taken their places in the annals of history as examples of the callous disregard of other living, feeling beings. Won’t you please choose to raise funds with events that are modern and animal-friendly? We’d be happy to discuss suggestions with you. Thank you for your consideration.
Very truly yours,
Ingrid E. Newkirk
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