BREAKING: Deeley responds to PETA's call for Phil to retire

(File photo by Alan Freed/The Punxsutawney Spirit)
By Larry McGuire, Of The Spirit

In an exclusive interview with The Spirit, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club Inner Circle President Bill Deeley has responded to a letter issued to the Groundhog Club and made public on Tuesday by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that called for Punxsutawney Phil to be retired "to a reputable sanctuary" and replaced with a "cutting-edge animatronic groundhog that could actually predict the weather using artificial intelligence."

Deeley spoke with The Spirit late Tuesday night and said, "I have not read the letter from PETA yet, but again, I would invite them to come to Punxsutawney and see how Phil is treated. As I've said in the past, Phil lives better than the average child in Western Pennsylvania."

He added that in the winter, Phil sleeps in a warm environment, and in the summertime, he lives in an air-conditioned environment. Deeley also said that Phil is required by law by the United States Department of Agriculture to get a physical and that the average person who lives in the United States is not required to go to the doctor every year.

PETA's letter, addressed to Deeley, said, in part, that "as a prey species, groundhogs actively avoid humans. Being in close proximity to the public causes these animals great stress. When Phil is dragged out of his hole and held up to flashing lights and crowds, he has no idea what's happening. Being relegated to a library 'habitat' for the other days of the year doesn't allow him or the other groundhog there to dig, burrow or forage. It's no kind of life for these animals."

PETA also suggested that the technology is available to replace Phil with "an animatronic groundhog with artificial intelligence (AI) that could actually predict the weather", adding, "An AI Phil would renew interest in Punxsutawney, generating a great deal of buzz."

"If we were going to use an animatronic groundhog, that's not what people want to see," Deeley explained. "They want to see Phil himself. People across the country, and in some cases those traveling from other countries, come to see the real Phil on Groundhog Day."

This is not the first time that PETA has made this claim against the Groundhog Club, and Deeley said that this is the same sort of thing they said the last time in search of publicity.

In response to the charge that Phil doesn't get to enjoy the life of other groundhogs in the environment, Deeley said, "Look at the groundhog right now in the wild; he's sleeping in a frigid atmosphere, and if it gets really cold, they can freeze to death."

Deeley said that Phil also travels around Western Pennsylvania and Western New York and other areas to visit at special events and appear in parades during the summer and attends other events during the year, including the Pennsylvania Farm Show.

He said that Phil is the most famous Groundhog and that he feels as if "PETA wants to piggyback off of his fame for their own publicity." He added, "I think the crowd for this year's Groundhog Day could be one of the largest ever," and said that PETA has never come to Punxsutawney to observe just exactly how Punxsutawney Phil lives. He also added that Phil does have wood and bark to hone his claws down in his burrow at the library.

"If they would come here and look, they would see that they have no story," he added. "Phil is observed by the public every day to see and witness how well he's kept."