Slam shows culture clash between NYC and upstate

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 22 February 2014 at 12:00 am

Photos by Tom Rivers – Hunters walk towards the Holley fire hall with squirrels to be weighed as part of today’s “Squirrel Slam” hunting contest.

HOLLEY – While a small group of protestors stood outside, shivering in the cold and holding signs against a squirrel hunting contest, the Holley fire hall was filled with more than 400 hunters.

They had been out hunting earlier in the day, shooting squirrels. Individuals and teams with the heaviest squirrels won prizes. It’s a tradition Friends of Animals wants to see outlawed.

Friends for the second year targeted the Holley event, questioning why a fire department, with a mission of saving lives, would organize a fundraiser that welcomed participants 12 and older to kill squirrels.

There were fewer than a dozen protestors against the Squirrel Slam at Public Square during a 4:30 to 6 p.m. protest. Edita Birnkrant, director of Friends of Animals in New York, made the trip from New York City. Her organization is against all hunting, but is speficially pushing legislation that would ban wildlife killing contests.

There were fewer than a dozen protestors from Friends of Animals in Holley today for the Squirrel Slam. They group is trying to raise public awareness about its efforts to make wildlife hunting contests illegal as fund-raisers. The group had a designated spot in front of the Holley Hotel where they stood with signs.

Jeanne O’Dell of Pavilion stood with the Friends of Animals, holding a sign. She said it was her first protest.

“Some people might say it’s only squirrels, but it’s still violence,” said O’Dell, 54.

O’Dell said she is an animal advocate. Two years ago she adopted a rescued pit bull. She doesn’t like the Squirrel Slam, partly because it welcomes children to shoot guns.

Holley resident Kerri Neale talked with the protestors while he walked around with a boot, seeking donations for the Holley Fire Department. Neale went out hunting squirrels with a friend earlier in the day. Neale said he shot three. He thinks the push by Friends and some downstate legislators shows a culture clash between upstate and New York City.

“Our cultures are different,” he said. “I can’t tell them want to do with their culture.”

The Holley Police Department designated spots for protestors. Supporters of the Friends of Animals were by the Holley Hotel at left while hunting enthusiasts were across the street at right in back. Another group holding SCOPE (Shooters Committee On Political Education) also protested at right by the former Tagg’s Tavern. That group opposes the SAFE Act, a gun control measure approved by the governor and State Legislature in January 2013.

Neale and Birnkrant exchanged words. Neale told her some Holley residents hunt to supplement their groceries. He noted it is a poor area, something he told Birnkrant well-to-do people in New York City may not realize.

Birnkrant acknowledged there is a disconnect between NYC and upstate. She told Neale she questions why people would want to put guns in the hands of children, which she said desensitizes them to violence and killing.

“Your culture sickens me,” she told Neale.

She complained to him for coming in the protestors’ designated space by the Holley Hotel, saying things to provoke the group. She told him none of the Friends of Animals walked across the street to provoke demonstrators in support of hunting, the Second Amendment and the Holley Fire Department.

Neale said he supports the right to protest, including by the Friends of Animals, although he said the group’s mission is “misguided.”

He said the Squirrel Slam embraced “skillful hunting, not torturing animals.”

Kerri Neale, a Holley resident who hunted squirrels on Saturday, talks with Edita Birnkrant, director of Friends of Animals in New York, during Saturday’s demonstration. Neale, right, solicited donations for the Holley Fire Department. He said he collected about $100 for the Fire Department, including individual cash donations from some of the Friends of Animals representatives.

In talking with Birnkrant, he stressed she and many of the Friends supporters were from New York City.

Birnkrant said the city pays more than its share in taxes, keeping the state going.

“Without New York City, Western New York would fall into Lake Ontario,” Birnkrant told Neale.

She had another exchange with Dan Shuler of Barre. Shuler walked towards her and told her squirrels are just like rats, which are common in NYC.

While they talked, hunters walked by with squirrels on a string. One shouted to Birnkrant that squirrels are “yummy.”

Shuler encouraged Birnkrant to go back to New York City. In front of a Holley police officer, she told Shuler, “I’m a New Yorker. We provide all the funds for your [expletive] little town.”

She turned around and walked away. Shuler was standing there with a young boy. Shuler asked if others heard what he heard. He was surprised Birnkrant would swear in front of a kid, a police officer (and a reporter).

Birnkrant earlier in the day presented Police Chief William Murphy with names from 5,500 people around the world in an online petition, calling on Holley to cease the Squirrel Slam.

Animal rights advocates were also in Brockport earlier in the day, protesting the slam.