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Time to rethink squirrel hunting contests for kids?

The seventh annual Holley “Squirrel Slam” to be

The seventh annual Holley “Squirrel Slam” to be held upstate, N.Y., on Feb. 16 is a mass squirrel-killing contest in which children and adults are awarded cash and gun prizes for killing the heaviest squirrels. Credit: AP File

Here’s a contest open to kids that some would argue is just not fair game, especially after the Sandy Hook shootings.

The seventh annual Holley “Squirrel Slam” to be held upstate on Feb. 16 is a contest in which children and adults are awarded cash and gun prizes for killing the heaviest squirrels.

The fundraiser, which encourages children as young as 12 to take a shot at gray and red squirrels and is sponsored by the Holley Fire Department of Orleans County, has come under fire from some social media sites, bloggers, online petitioners and animal rights activists.

Opponents argue hunting squirrels for sustenance may have been necessary in a dystopian society as portrayed in the “The Hunger Games”  trilogy, the popular young-adult adventure series.

But for some, the Holley contest, particularly in the wake of the recent school shooting in Newtown, Conn., raises moral and ethical concerns, such as: Is squirrel hunting as a form of entertainment appropriate for kids? Should young children be allowed to shoot?

Smithtown psychologist Dr. Deena Abbe said "encouraging children to take part in senseless violence is dangerous and wrong. And from a psychological perspective, what you’re doing is you are encouraging and reinforcing senseless violence.”

Abbe said, “I can understand hunting in some form for meat or for the use of skins, but senseless shooting of squirrels and encouraging young children to do that, I think, is inappropriate.”

Such hunts, Abbe said, can have a “dangerous” effect on kids. “There’s lots of studies out there that show that single-person shooter video games do sensitize children and adults to violence. ... This is setting these children up to be desensitized to violence against another living being for no reason whatsoever and, yes, it’s dangerous.”

Lori Ketcham, the director of Suffolk-based STAR Foundation, which is dedicated to the welfare of domestic and wild animals, said  "It’s a terrible thing to teach children it’s OK to kill things like that, especially at a contest.”

Ketcham views it as animal abuse, explaining, “they’re shooting them as a fundraiser and how can that possibly be considered OK? Squirrels didn’t choose to help raise money for the fire department.”

Efforts to reach the Holley fire department were unsuccessful. Media reports have said that Holley fire officials believe very few local people are upset about the hunt and that the event abides by all state hunting laws. They also say the squirrel meat gets consumed.

Personally, as a suburbanite mother of a preteen and teens, I'm aghast that especially after Newton a fire department would sponsor such an event for a fundraiser. But I know others may differ -- tell us your thoughts in the comments, below.

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