The annual “Possum Drop” celebration in the mountain community of Brasstown will go on this New Year’s Eve, the organizer says – just not with a living opossum.
That leaves open a number of possibilities for the starring role: A stuffed possum. A toy possum. Or something else entirely.
“We may have possum stew or something if we find one dead,” organizer Clay Logan said Monday. “No live possums, let’s put it like that.”
Logan says using a live opossum as part of the celebration will be put on hold until a lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is resolved. The event has drawn national attention because of PETA’s attempts to stop it in recent years. But even before that notoriety, the celebration attracted thousands to the community more than 300 miles from Raleigh in the southwest corner of the state. It is now in its 21st year.
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“Rain, storm, sleet or dark of night will not stop the Possum Drop,” Logan said in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s a good family event. It’s good clean family fun, a good old redneck good time.”
In past years, an opossum has been lowered in an opaque plastic box at the stroke of midnight.
One year Logan spruced up and froze a dead opossum found by the side of the road to foil a PETA attempt to block it. Another year he displayed near the stage a live opossum in a wooden box, but used a remote-controlled car inside the plastic box to make it look like a live animal was inside, Logan said in a deposition.
Claim of abuse
Logan says he’s tried to compromise with the animal welfare organization, but it has been unreasonable. He rejects PETA’s claim that the event is abusive.
“We honor the possum,” he said. “We don’t shorten their lives – we prolong his life. They’re going to get run over anyway.”
PETA, on the other hand, says it is Logan who hasn’t been willing to compromise. It has suggested he take an opossum carcass to a taxidermist and use that every year. PETA doesn’t have a problem with using a dead animal.
“If an animal is killed by accident, we’re obviously sorry it met its demise prematurely,” PETA attorney Martina Bernstein said Monday. “But that’s an accident. It’s different from deliberately hunting an animal with dogs, chasing it up a tree.
“You can ring in the New Year with a grand celebration with no need to cause any suffering to any shy animal that, by nature, would be terrified.”
Such is the situation in Tallapoosa, Ga., where throngs gather each New Year’s Eve to cheer Spencer, a stuffed opossum, being lowered from a building downtown.
Logan, who is the proprietor of Clay’s Corner store in Brasstown, and PETA have a long and winding legal trail behind them over the course of three lawsuits. The most recent twist came when PETA sued in Wake County Superior Court to stop a law the General Assembly passed this year that carved out a special protection for the “Possum Drop,” by suspending opossum-related wildlife regulations in Clay County between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 each year.
PETA argued the law was unconstitutionally vague, and would allow any sort of mistreatment – including waterboarding or crucifixion – in effect creating what the attorneys called “a zone of lawlessness.” (This year Logan is out with “Zone of Lawlessness” T-shirts.)
In early December, a judge suspended the new law from taking effect. That still allowed Logan to apply for a captivity license from the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, and allowed the state to grant him one.
On Dec. 19, PETA filed an emergency motion contending there wasn’t enough time left to make sure any license that was issued was lawful. The cage would have to be inspected, and any disagreements argued in court.
Last year, the event went on in a see-through plastic box 6 feet long, 3 feet tall with a den, as required by the state-issued license. But the den failed to provide a retreat from sight and was not inspected, as it was supposed to be. A judge ruled Logan would have to apply for a new license this year.
On Monday, administrative law Judge Fred Morrison Jr. ruled that PETA’s motion was moot because Logan had notified the commission and Morrison in a Dec. 20 email that he had no intention of using a live opossum this year. Morrison said he would take Logan at his word.