By Dave Nethers
MASSILLON, Ohio – For well over 40 years the Massillon Washington High School Tigers football team has adopted a new living tiger cub mascot each football season they name Obie.
Long-time residents said the tradition has become woven into the fabric of the community.
“He goes around to all the schools during football season and they take him around and the kids just love him and he’s a big attraction,” said Lani McHenry who said her own children always looked forward to the visits.
“Massillon holds very true to its traditions, that includes parades, that includes football games, the community coming together and Obie has been part of those traditions since the 1970s,” said Mandy Pond, the archivist at the Massillon Museum.
In fact, long-time residents also believe the animal may be better cared for than they are.
“They tell you all the time how much chicken they feed him and stuff every day he gets fed well. He’s well cared for. There is a veterinarian in town; if there’s a problem, he’ll take care of him,” said McHenry.
“He’s well-loved by everyone in the community and I know the trainers really love the Obies that we have had throughout the years and the fans respect him,” said Ben Slagel who grew up just a short distance from where the cubs are kept and said he has personally seen how they are cared for and taken for walks by the crew members.
But California activist Amanda Whelan has started an online petition calling for the removal of the mascot.
In the petition, which is directed to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Whelan claims, “It is my belief that the Massillon Washington High School Boosters have done little to nothing to care for a reputed four decades of traumatized cubs.”
She also says, “This barbaric yearly cub purchase is not about “school pride;” it is a cruel practice and must be stopped. Massillon Washington High’s actions allow one of the rarest mammals on earth to be at the mercy of the grossly unregulated US exotic pet trade and the inadequacy of the Ohio state government to consistently enforce their fledgling exotic pet laws.”
By late Friday afternoon, the petition had a little over 5,800 signatures, a little more than a quarter of the 20,000 signature goal.
The vast majority of the signatures were from people who do not live in Ohio and include people living in places like India, Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Poland, Sweeden and Croatia.
FOX 8 News was able to contact Bill Brown, the President of the Massillon Tigers Football Booster’s Club on Friday.
Brown said he was aware of the petition but refused to comment on the accusations or discuss the care of the cubs.
Attempts were also made to contact George Mizer, one of the caretakers of the cubs. He was not at home and did not return our calls.
The tradition of having live tiger cubs has been threatened in the past.
FOX 8 News reported in 2010 that changes in state laws regarding exotic animals, like Bengal tigers, threatened to do away with the tradition.
The laws were changed but written in such a way that the tradition was able to continue.
Many people in Massillon believe the tradition is properly managed and regulated.
“He’s very loved and upon retirement when the year is up they do go to zoos and various places, specifically Stump Hill Farm here in Massillon and I have visited the grounds and he’s well cared for and loved,” said Pond. Video.