6 min read

High School Accused Of 'Discarding' Live Tiger Cub Mascots Year After Year

<p> <a class="checked-link" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt6id7OMuvA">YouTube/John Sanzen</a><span></span> </p>

A high school in Ohio is under fire from animal welfare supporters for its "cruel" and "heartless" tradition of using tigers as living mascots during football games - and discarding the animals at the end of every season.

Each year for the past 44 years, Massillon Washington High School's football boosters club has purchased or leased tiger cubs from a local private exotic animal breeder, dubbing each "Obie," according to Cleveland.com. Separated prematurely from their mothers and declawed, the young animals are forced to experience the stresses of human contact, paraded in front of screaming crowds.

The tigers' tenure as mascots is brief. When football season's over, they're sent away to endure the rigors of captivity elsewhere, only to be replaced by a new "Obie."

Critics say that generations of these "retired" tigers routinely wind up caged as roadside attractions, or are sold into private hands as breeding animals, pets or worse, targets for canned hunting operations.

A spokeswoman for Stump Hill Exotic Animal Farm, where boosters have acquired tiger cubs for the last few years, told Cleveland.com that it's "no one's business" where the Obies are sent, "except the Massillon Boosters Club, Stump Hill and the USDA."

While the breeder can keep some details closely guarded, USDA reports are still a matter of public record - and they hint at a dismal life for the big cats. Stump Hill has been cited on numerous occasions for welfare violations, most recently on Dec. 5, when a routine inspection uncovered an unreported tiger cub who had been seriously injured after getting stuck in an enclosure fence.

According to local news site Indeonline.com, the inspector believes that the cub had chewed off part of her paw in an attempt to free herself.

Stump Hill and Massillon Washington High School's football boosters club have been the targets of several petitions, but none have been able to end the use of living mascots. In fact, when Ohio updated its laws regulating exotic animals in 2010, the new legislation was written in a way that allowed the school's use of tigers to continue.

Animal welfare supporters are still fighting. Petitions launched on both Care2.com and Change.org have gathered thousands of signatures calling for the USDA to take stronger action.

"This barbaric yearly cub purchase is not about 'school pride' it is a cruel practice and must be stopped," writes petitioner Amanda Whelan.

Whelan says she hopes the school will end the tradition on its own in the face of mounting opposition, but the boosters are so far unswayed.

"We talked about the petition but we really haven't done anything as far as making a move to make any changes or do anything in the future," said booster club historian Gary Vogt.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), an estimated 5,000 tigers are held in captivity throughout the United States "in backyards, urban apartments and sideshows, often by those untrained in handling tigers." The WWF has called for a ban on private possession of big cats.

Sign the petitions to stop the cruel "Obie" cycle here and here.