Tuesday, June 24, 2008

PETA proposes Lobster Empathy Center for Skowhegan jail

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has sent a proposal to the Somerset County commissioners to lease their jail for the world’s first Lobster Empathy Center.

The central Maine county is constructing a new jail and has put the century-old jail in downtown Skowhegan up for sale. The Realtor handling the sale called the offer "likely a publicity stunt."

"A prison is the perfect setting to demonstrate how lobsters suffer when they are caught in traps or confined to cramped, filthy supermarket tanks," PETA wrote in a June 2 letter to the commissioners. "The center will teach visitors to have compassion for these interesting, sensitive animals while also commemorating the millions of lobsters who are ripped from their homes in the ocean off the coast of Maine each year before being boiled alive."

Commissioner Chairman Phil Roy, who doesn’t care for lobster, was at a loss for words Monday afternoon.

"I’m shocked and I don’t know what to say. I didn’t realize Skowhegan was the coastal community PETA was looking for," Roy said, with tongue in cheek.

As the crow flies, the distance from Skowhegan to Rockland, home of the Maine Lobster Festival and a lobster fishing port, is approximately 53 miles.

"The lobster capital of the state of Maine certainly isn’t here," Roy said. He said it was odd that PETA would object to the jail conditions for lobsters but had never filed a complaint on behalf of the human inmates incarcerated there.

PETA said the center would include educational displays and "testimonials from top independent scientists confirming that lobsters feel pain just like other animals."

PETA said the center would feature interactive exhibits such as a human-size lobster trap where visitors can have their fingers wrapped in large rubber bands that will remain on for their entire visit.

"At that point, visitors can be moved to a small, filth-strewn glass tank where they will be crammed together and confined for up to an hour," the proposal states.

The center also would include a concession stand that would include faux lobster treats, and children would receive free stuffed toy lobsters labeled "Lobster Are Friends, Not Food."

"Mainers have been dragging lobsters from their ocean homes for generations," said PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. "It’s time for them to learn that these fascinating animals deserve more than being treated as mere commodities."

Roy said that even if the offer is a publicity stunt and a waste of the commissioners’ time, it would be treated the same as any other and has been forwarded to the Realtor handling the jail’s sale.

Amy McLellan of Dawson Commercial Realty said all offers would be considered although the county has no interest in leasing the jail. "The property needs to be sold," she said. "Leasing is not an option, but we will look at everything. However, our big thing is not so much the price as the use. The county wants to provide jobs and get the property back on the tax rolls."

McLellan said there is extraordinary interest in the jail. "We are currently working on 22 leads," she said.

One recent offer was made by entrepreneur Amber Lambke of Skowhegan, who has proposed purchasing the jail for a gristmill, artists colony, bakery and other cultural uses.

Special Thanks to Bangor News

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