Farmer cancels pig-wrestling contests

Amid fears of fines, violence, he stops remaining schedule

October 07, 2008|By Joe Burris | Joe Burris,joseph.burris@baltsun.com

Stan Dabkowski still doesn't know whether his pig mud-wrestling contest last month violated Baltimore County animal-control laws.

But after receiving complaints from animal-rights groups, word of a possible boycott of his business and a threat of violence, the Spring Meadow Farms owner has decided to cancel the remainder of the schedule.

"The week [before the event] we had about six to eight negative comments," the farmer said yesterday. "Afterward we had about 30 to 40, and one guy threatened to do violence to me, my family and my business."

The event in Upperco drew complaints from animal-rights groups People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane League of Baltimore, and raised questions about whether it violated a county code that prohibits instigating combat between animals and humans.

Dabkowski said he got the idea from a friend and fellow farmer in Pennsylvania who has generated local interest and revenue from pig mud-wrestling. Dabkowski invested $3,000 in 24 pigs and construction of a 30-foot-diameter ring.

About 200 people turned out for the Sept. 27 event, where several four-member teams took turns trying to catch pigs and place them in a round water trough in less than 90 seconds to compete for a $150 prize.

Dabkowski, who had planned to stage about three more contests, said he was concerned that the county might fine him up to $2,000 - $100 for each of the 20 pigs used in the first event. County officials attended and filmed the first event, and Dabkowski said they told him they would study the film to decide whether citations were warranted.

He canceled an event slated for last Saturday for fear of additional fines. County Health Department spokeswoman Monique Lyle said yesterday that officials had not yet determined whether the event violated code.

Another factor, Dabkowski says, was word that opponents were advocating a boycott of Spring Meadow Farms. Dabkowski's operation includes a produce market, garden center, ice cream shop and a farm zoo.

In a news release, the Humane League took credit for "shutting down" the competition. Aaron Ross, a spokesman for the group, said he attended the September event and sent an e-mail to members urging a boycott of the farm's products. Dabkowski said many members called or e-mailed to voice their objections, and that he was concerned about losing business.

And then there was a threat of violence that came in an e-mail.

"After the threats, my wife started having chest pains," Dabkowksi added. "The [county] taped the event but they still haven't told us whether we've done anything wrong. My wife and I prayed about it, and we've decided to lay it to rest. We're not in position to do battle with the county and take on thousands of dollars worth of fines."

Dabkowski said he had heard rumors of protests at future events. For him, the slew of inflammatory calls and e-mails was enough.

"It started getting ugly. One person said that I belonged in the same jail cell as Michael Vick," he said, referring to the former NFL star imprisoned for sponsoring a dogfighting ring where animals were tortured and killed.

The pig-wrestling competition is history, but Dabkowski said he is planning a pig roast Oct. 18 that's open to the public.

"That's what pigs are for," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.

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