There's no doubt the members of PETA are sincere in their mission. They love animals, and they want to see them protected. Most PETA members are vegetarians or vegans, which is their right - just as it's the right of everyone else to consume meat.

But sometimes, PETA pushes its crusade a bit too far. That happened a few decades ago, when it took umbrage with the local 4-H club for holding tortoise races, and the Daily Press for covering it, complete with photos and quotes from kids having a good time. The paper was, PETA said, encouraging bad behavior.

Now, PETA has crossed the line again by targeting a Pennsylvania city that is home to the famous weather-predicting groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil. Animal rights activists want Phil to "retire," although they don't say whether they'd prefer a zoo, a strip of swamp in sunny Florida, or a wooded area not too far from his climate-controlled habitat in the Punxsutawney Memorial Library.

Once a year, on Feb. 2, the woodchuck is taken from his home and lifted into the air for huge crowds to cheer. If he sees his shadow, as the old wives' tale goes, we can expect six more weeks of bad weather. More often than not, Phil is wrong. But it's a 134-year-old tradition that is literally the lifeblood of that community. Phil has a girlfriend, Phyllis, and they enjoy a diet of bananas, carrots and the human-trendy kale, as well as submit to a U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection annually.

We're just guessing here, but it stands to reason that Phil is treated by his caregivers better than countless human beings are treated. There's no percentage - or tourist traffic - in doing otherwise.

PETA offers an alternative: Replace Phil with a fake groundhog, using artificial intelligence technology - which will give the mammal relief, and bring his home city into the 21st century with a device that might be able to predict weather more accurately than a rodent. The people of Punxsutawney aren't convinced; they compared it to a zoo full of robotic animals. Who wants to drive hundreds of miles to check that out, when they can go to Disney World and see the same thing?

PETA pointed out that "gentle, vulnerable groundhogs are not barometers." Of course not - and no one really believes they are. As far as their being "vulnerable," it's safe to say Phil is at far less risk than his relatives in Cherokee County, where passing drivers can frequently spot them squashed into the pavement on Highway 10. PETA also calls Phil "long-suffering" and adds that "being in close proximity to the public causes these animals great stress." Have PETA members personally spoken with Phil to make this determination? According to those who have been around him, Phil doesn't seem to mind.

Mistreatment of animals is not to be taken lightly, and even President Trump agrees. After all, he signed into law a measure that makes animal abuse a felony. But the fact that an animal is in captivity doesn't mean it's abused. Would anyone say that of the creatures at the Three Forks Nature Center? The question is rhetorical, because PETA just might, if it thinks painting numbers on the shell of a tortoise constitutes abuse.

PETA needs to leave Punxsutawney alone, and focus its energy and considerable influence where it could really matter: Like the wealthy people and their scions who engage in "big game hunts" and pose for photos by the corpses of the endangered beasts they've slaughtered. That's a real cause for concern.

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