DERRY — The annual Miss New Hampshire Scholarship competition was held Saturday night in the Stockbridge Theatre at Pinkerton Academy, but not without some fur flying when it came to a traditional gift bestowed upon the winner.
About 30 people, representing several state animal rights groups, gathered outside beforehand to protest the presentation of a fur coat to the newly-crowned Miss New Hampshire, courtesy of the New Hampshire Trappers Association, a longtime supporter of the competition.
This year’s coat is made from gray fox.
The protesters held signs showing trapping photos, and other images as cars pulled into the venue’s parking lot. One protester was dressed as a fox, with a trap attached to its arm.
Organizer and animal rights supporter Kristina Snyder said awarding the fur coat to Miss New Hampshire is a tradition that needs to stop.
“All around the state there are titleholders competing for the Miss New Hampshire crown, including from Derry,” Snyder said. “Each contestant can turn down the fur coat and we are hoping this year a brave, compassionate young woman will do the right thing and turn down this fur coat of cruelty.”
An online petition at thepetitionsite.com has garnered more than 125,000 signatures in protest of the fur.
“It is time that the Miss New Hampshire Organization and indeed Miss America’s as well, takes a stand against cruelty to animals and says ‘no’ to this fur coat,” the site stated. “These young women are supposed to reflect today’s society and trends. They should show independence, compassion, and caring towards animals. By staying stuck in the past and accepting a fur coat made from tortured animals, instead it shows a regressive stance by this organization.”
Protesters came from all around the state, coming to Derry to give their opinions on trapping and the fur coat award.
“We are probably doing something (protest) every week,” said B.J. Wahl, who came to protest from Sullivan, and is part of the Twin States Animal Liberation organization. “The whole world needs to change.”
Susan Monty of Derry held a sign she designed to protest trapping.
“I think trapping is despicable,” Monty said. “This is something I could do something about.”
Dwight Pennell, president of the New Hampshire Trappers Association, said trapping in the Granite State is safely managed and regulated, using scientific wildlife management methods.
The organization has supported the Miss New Hampshire program for 26 years, awarding the winner a fur coat every year.
“We are the shepherds of the animals,” Pennell said. “We go out and we try to keep the wildlife on an even keel. We have huge success stories of managing wildlife.”
He added New Hampshire Fish and Game officials monitor the trapping data collected, including trapping locations and the number of animals caught. Trappers also have to complete instructional courses. Pennell has taught trapping education for more than 30 years.
Pennell said the animal activists have information about the state’s trapping regulations and all it involves, but continue to spread their own information that he feels is often misleading.
“You are never going to convince them to your side,” he said. “There are a few that want to stop all animal use.”
For Snyder, it’s a way of doing something she cares deeply about. She hopes things will change with so much information and social media spreading messages about trapping.
But the relationship between the Miss New Hampshire organization and the state’s trapping association is a long one.
“Back then, there was no social media, not the awareness,” Snyder said. “It inevitably will be something of the past. Trapping has got to go.”
In all the years of supporting Miss New Hampshire, Pennell said the fur coat is a beautiful gift for the new Miss New Hampshire.
“The girls received it very well,” he said.