A possumless possum drop
Just like they have for the last two decades, residents of Clay County and beyond gathered in Brasstown to ring in the New Year with the annual Possum Drop. But unlike the last two decades, they had to do so without the aid of a live possum.
“We ended up using a pot of possum stew,” said Clay Logan, event organizer and owner of Clay’s Corner store. “We made it here at the store. We got a little private room in the back [where] we cook some.”
The crowd, which typically includes a couple thousand people, was a little smaller than normal, but Logan attributes that more to chilly weather than to lack of interest in celebrating the possum. There was still the reading of “Eulogy to a Possum,” still the 10 p.m. arrival of the guest of honor enclosed in a plexiglass container, still the Miss Possum cross-dressing contest and still the midnight lowering of the plexiglass box.
Just no possum.
That fact, either sad or joyous depending on your persuasion, stems from a lawsuit that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals filed in 2012 decrying the Possum Drop as animal abuse and taking issue with a state law allowing it.
“It seems to me absolutely incredible that somebody who’s familiar with the event could think that the opossum isn’t being harmed just because you’re releasing the opossum afterward,” said Martina Bernstein, director of litigation for PETA. “I very much doubt that people who have cats and dogs would volunteer those animals to dangle from a box for hours in the frigid air.”
It’s actually against North Carolina law to grab a possum from the wild and keep it captive, but in 2013 the Legislature passed a law, sponsored by Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, exempting Clay County from laws “related to the capture, captivity, treatment, or release” of possums between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 of each year. PETA opposes this specialized exemption and the opportunity it affords any potential Clay County possum abuser to strike without punishment between the specified dates.
“You can’t just give your favorite people an exemption from having to comply with the law where everyone else has to comply,” Bernstein said.
So, PETA sued the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, starting a legal battle that’s now been dragging for three years. Logan promised the judge in writing that he would not apply for a possum permit this year, thus resulting in a possumless Possum Drop. But the legal issue is expected to be settled sometime in 2015, and Logan’s planning on being “back on schedule with a smiling possum” for the next New Year’s Eve.
“A lot of the folks is upset that we didn’t have a live ‘un, but we’ll have one this year or this coming year,” he said.
Bernstein, however, is rooting for the opposite and is a bit suspicious as to what was actually in the box this year.
“As far as we’re able to determine, the box that was raised and lowered was opaque, so no one was able to see in,” she said. “Logan apparently referred to possum stew being inside. It could have been a heap of dirt for all we know. Or it could be something else altogether.”
It was definitely just possum stew, Logan said, but there’s no denying that he’s trying to minimize the information he provides PETA.
“We used to make a movie, and we don’t even do that no more,” Logan said. “They got us wupped down like a dog.”
As to whether PETA had anyone at this year’s event to keep an eye on things, Bernstein wouldn’t say.
“I’m not sure if I can respond to that. That might be confidential litigation information,” she said when asked.
But why the need to use a live possum anyway? According to an affidavit submitted by veterinarian Debbie Anderson, an event like the Possum Drop could seriously harm and torture the possum through exposure to cold and fright from loud noises. In Tallapoosa, Georgia, a New Year’s Eve Possum Drop goes off every year using Spencer the taxidermied possum, causing harm to no marsupial.
“Why is it important to have a big ball in New York?” Logan responded. “It’s an event for our community and for local people to bring their kids. It’s a family affair and everyone can come and have a good time, and there’s not that many of them around.”
“Two things we don’t allow, alcohol and lawn chairs,” Logan said, “because we don’t have no room for either one of them.”
All well and good, Bernstein said, but the live possum’s got to go.
“Really, there’s a reason why you have animal cruelty laws to begin with, so people aren’t allowed to torment defenseless animals,” she said.
Time will tell whose view prevails.