COTTAGE GROVE, Ore. -- What started as a family project to rescue rabbits led a Creswell mother and daughter on a crusade to ban an event they see as animal abuse at the Cottage Grove Rodeo.
And they got their wish -- sort of.
Heather Crippen and her daughter Alex, 18, heard about the "animal scramble" at the Cottage Grove Rodeo last year and decided to see it firsthand. The two operate Red Barn Rabbit Rescue in Creswell -- a nonprofit 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 in by 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; 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 to ban such events. And they wrote to the Cottage Grove Riding Club, asking the organization to end the animal scramble at the rodeo, which this year takes place Friday and Saturday.
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 go into the ring and try to grab a chicken to take home. But they will be required to walk instead of running around the chickens, Fisher said.
The scramble also will feature a plastic egg hunt, with 25 of the eggs containing certificates for a free bunny, Fisher said. Other eggs will contain money or rodeo coupons.
Because of its decadeslong tradition, 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," she 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 drafted a proposed ordinance last month to ban giving away small animals -- including rabbits, chinchillas, guinea pigs and fowl -- as prizes.
As written, the ordinance would also ban rodeos from featuring animals other than horses, cattle, sheep, goats and dogs. The ordinance also would ban dying or coloring small animals' fur for commercial purposes.
Jeannie Peterson, vice president of the Humane Society of Cottage Grove, said she appreciates the Riding Club's changes to this year's scramble, but does not support any animal scramble .
"Humane Societies put a lot of effort into education and stressing the importance of preparing to get a pet," she 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."