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The Massillon Tigers Football Booster Club

I was disappointed to learn that the Massillon Football Booster Club purchases live Bengal tiger cubs each year as living mascots for the Massillon Tigers football program. This inhumane and outdated tradition needs to be halted immediately.

Having pride in your Tigers is certainly commendable, but buying a new “Obie” every year is something that Massillon shouldn’t be proud of. It’s an irresponsible tradition which wastes valuable funds, puts the public at risk, places an incredible burden on animal sanctuaries, and supports the inhumane and loosely-regulated exotics breeding industry.

This isn’t an animal rights crusade – it’s an animal welfare and public safety issue. And it also isn’t an attack on Massillon, its football traditions, or its rights. It’s merely a request, from one tiger lover to another, to improve the welfare of tigers, relieve the burden on the sanctuaries which care for them, and keep both people and animals safe.

As you are no doubt aware, the “Obies” are obtained from Stump Hill Farm, a notoriously bad breeding facility which has repeatedly failed to comply with the minimum animal care standards set by the federal Animal Welfare Act. The facility has been recently cited by federal inspectors for failing to provide enrichment and veterinary care, keeping animals in feces-filled enclosures, declawing tiger cubs illegally, and housing adult tigers in cages so small that they cannot turn around. The fact that Massillon both financially supports such a place and frequently returns the cubs there after the football season shocks the conscience. It’s clear that Massillon loves Obie, so where is the concern for where the cubs will spend the next 20 years of their lives?

Over the past 20 years, over 42 tigers have been purchased by the club, used as mascots, and then “dumped” in order to be replaced after a single season. Due to our relatively lax exotic animal ownership laws and the difficulty in enforcing them, many of the former mascots have ended up in deplorable conditions.

Tiger Hill Exotics, a facility which is noncompliant with animal welfare laws and currently risks having its animals seized by the state, has 4 former Obies, while other mascots are suspected to have been shot by law enforcement after their mentally unstable owner released them in the town of Zanesville, Ohio. The cubs that are returned to Stump Hill are either kept in deplorable conditions at the facility, or sold into private hands. Stump Hill claims that the tigers are only sold to "USDA-licensed facilities", but just because a facility is licensed does not mean it is a good home for a tiger.

Under current federal regulations, USDA licensed facilities may legally house adult tigers in enclosures the size of a parking space, with no enrichment. Facilities with blatant USDA non-compliances often keep their licenses, so Obie could possibly end up in even worse conditions. The USDA also does not track the sale or acquisition of privately-owned tigers, so it’s impossible to know which facility - or country - the animals end up in. Tigers which have been bred for the U.S. pet trade have been shot by trophy hunters in canned hunts, killed and eaten as “exotic meat”, and slaughtered and sold into the illegal international wildlife trade, which incentivizes the poaching of wild tigers. Some of these animals could very well have been an “Obie”.

It’s simply unconscionable for Massillon to have any involvement in such an unregulated and inhumane industry.

Furthermore, even if an Obie is lucky enough to fall into the care of a reputable sanctuary, it is important to consider the immense cost that the sanctuary will have to bear in order to care for the animal. Annual food costs alone can add up to $10,000 for a single tiger. With an estimated 20-year lifespan, that’s $200,000 to feed one Obie. Over the 43-plus-year tradition that Obie has been on the sidelines at Massillon home games, he has cost over $8.6 million in food costs alone. Reputable sanctuaries also spend more than $60,000 to construct housing and can spend up to $40,000 per year on veterinary care—an $800,000 commitment over the 20-year lifespan of each former mascot. These organizations are already struggling to keep up with the influx of animals that they must support, and buying and discarding Obies year after year puts a huge strain on both them and the other animals they must support. Is this really a responsible tradition?

The act of bringing a tiger cub to a football game, while a unique tradition, is not necessarily in the tiger’s best interest. In the wild, tiger cubs stay with their mothers for two years, and captive-bred tigers retain all of these instincts. But in order to make the cub imprint on humans and bring the mother tigress back into heat, Stump Hill removes the cubs from their mothers at birth - a process which is incredibly stressful to both mother and cub. Then, the cub is sold to Massillon under the guise that it has been “rejected” by its’ mother – a lie frequently told by unscrupulous breeders.

Once at Massillon, Obie's new human caregivers try to keep him happy and healthy, but, no matter how much the cub is loved, human caregivers are simply no substitute for a mother tiger, and the noisy sidelines of a Friday night scrimmage are not an appropriate environment for a non-domesticated animal like a tiger cub. In a newspaper interview, one of Obie’s handlers admitted, “The band noise makes him nervous. It makes for a messy cage after the game.”

There is also the very legitimate concern that an Obie, no matter how small, could injure someone. Children are frequently able to stick their hands into Obie’s cage, and fingers have been bitten in the past. Tigers are also known to transmit zoonotic parasites to humans, which is why a May 2011 statement from the National Association of State Public Health Veterinarians (NASPHV) recommends that the public be prohibited from direct contact with tigers of any age as a public health measure.

I, along with the Columbus Zoo, Big Cat Rescue, and other reputable wildlife organizations, am very concerned about the Tiger football program’s live mascot. Massilonians are starting to speak up, as well – an editorial in Massillon’s local newspaper, The Independent, said “this is one tradition that the Massillon Tiger football program can and should live without”.

I have no doubts that Massillon truly loves tigers, including the “Obie” cubs. But concern for the cubs shouldn’t stop after one football season. Right now, the Tigers are showing that animals – including endangered species like Obie - are disposable “props” that can be “thrown away” when no longer convenient. And that’s a shame, especially when so many other creative, tiger-friendly traditions can be implemented instead. For example, Massillon could help out Obie’s wild cousins by raising money for wild tiger conservation programs, or help the community of human Tiger fans by holding a drive for the local food bank. The possibilities are truly endless, especially for such a close-knit and spirited town like Massillon.

Massillon doesn’t need a tiger cub to have Tiger Pride. It is time to do right by Obie, and immediately bench this outdated, inhumane, and costly tradition.

Signed,

Mary Elizabeth

This petition closed over 3 years ago

How this will help

For decades, the Massillon Football Booster Club in Massillon, Ohio has used live Bengal tiger cubs as living "mascots" for the town's popular high school football team. 

The cubs, all nicknamed...

For decades, the Massillon Football Booster Club in Massillon, Ohio has used live Bengal tiger cubs as living "mascots" for the town's popular high school football team. 

The cubs, all nicknamed "Obie", are bought by the booster club from Stump Hill Farms, a private exotics breeder which has repeatedly failed to comply with the minimum animal care standards set by the federal Animal Welfare Act. The facility has been recently cited by federal inspectors for failing to provide enrichment and veterinary care, keeping animals in feces-filled enclosures, declawing tiger cubs illegally, and housing adult tigers in cages smaller than a parking space for their entire lives.

After being taken from their mothers, the cubs are stored in a garage by a member of the booster club and forced to attend all of the school's football games.

Sitting alone in a small cage on the sidelines, surrounded by bright lights and loud sounds, is incredibly stressful for a baby tiger. In an interview, one of Obie's handlers admitted, "The band noise makes him nervous. It makes for a messy cage after the game."

Then, after a single football season, the growing cubs are dumped in decrepit roadside zoos and "replaced" with new tiger cubs the next year! This tradition has led to the team buying – and discarding – 45 tigers over the past 20 years, with no concern for the life of the animal - in violation of Ohio's own laws!

Tiger Ridge Exotics, a facility which is noncompliant with animal welfare laws and currently risks having its animals seized by the state, has 4 former Obies, while other mascots are suspected to have been shot by law enforcement after their mentally unstable owner released them in the town of Zanesville, Ohio. And because the USDA does not track the acquisition or sale of privately-owned tigers, it's impossible to know where the cubs end up.

Tigers which have been bred for the U.S. pet trade have ended up as living targets in canned trophy hunts, killed and eaten as "exotic meats", and slaughtered and sold into the illegal international wildlife trade. Any one of them could have been an "Obie."

And while a few lucky mascots may have ended up at legitimate sanctuaries, these rescue organizations must assume the financial burden of caring for the tigers for life. Annual food costs alone can add up to $10,000 for a single tiger. With an estimated 20-year lifespan, that's $200,000 to feed one Obie. Over the 43-year tradition that Obie has been on the sidelines at Massillon home games, that's $8.6 million in food costs alone. These sanctuaries are already struggling to provide for the animals which need their help. They simply cannot afford the constant influx of cubs being dumped by the Massilon football program. 

This inhumane and irresponsible practice wastes valuable funds,  places an incredible burden on reputable animal sanctuaries, and supports a cruel industry which gives no thought to the welfare of animals – all for the sake of "tradition". 

Even worse, it teaches that animals – including endangered species like Obie - are disposable "props" that can be "thrown away" after a single football season.

The Columbus Zoo, Big Cat Rescue, and many other reputable organizations have expressed concern about this irresponsible practice. Even Massillon's local newspaper has agreed: "This is one tradition that the Massillon Tiger football program can and should live without." 

Tigers are not disposable. Urge the Massillon Tigers to permanently bench this outdated, inhumane, and costly "tradition"!

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