PETA urges Kent State to stop using live eagle ‘Flash’ as mascot

Darren D'Altorio

Mona Rutger, founder of Back To The Wild, debuted Flash at the men’s basketball game against Akron last spring. Flash was the first live golden eagle to serve as Kent State’s mascot in more than 10 years. FILE PHOTO BY DANIEL DOHERTY | Summer Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

The animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has expressed disgust with Kent State University’s new live mascot “Flash,” a rescued golden eagle contracted to the university for use at sporting events.

Daniel Hauff, animals in entertainment specialist for PETA, said the organization is trying to set an example for universities nationwide, asking that they “please don’t use live animals as mascots.”

“Use a costumed mascot,” Hauff said. “Human mascots are more versatile than live animals.”

Kent State partnered with the non-profit animal rescue and rehabilitation center Back To The Wild, located in Castalia, Ohio, to bring the eagle to the university.

Kent State and Back To The Wild have no intention to end their partnership, Kathy Stafford, vice president for university relations, wrote in a response to PETA. She assured PETA and the public that Flash is not stressed or traumatized by the experience at the games and that the eagle will be treated with respect and care whenever she visits Kent State’s campus.

Flash made her debut on Jan. 23 during the Kent State men’s basketball game against The University of Akron. PETA contacted the university the day of the game after receiving a call from a concerned individual about the eagle’s role at the event.

On March 21, Hauff wrote a letter to President Lester Lefton and the Kent State Board of Trustees, a letter urging the university to “implement a policy prohibiting the use of live animals at all university events.”

“Forcing a wild bird into a gymnasium is terrorizing to the animal,” Hauff said. “It is totally unnatural for the bird.”

Stafford wrote in her response to PETA that Hauff’s assertion “simply isn’t accurate.”

The eagle preens its feathers and eats when it returns to Back To The Wild after the games, signs that she is not stressed, said Mona Rutger, licensed animal rehabilitator and director of Back To The Wild.

The eagle helps to serve a greater purpose beyond being an icon and mascot for the university, Stafford wrote. Flash is part of an educational effort to raise awareness about the environment and habitat loss to wildlife.

Rutger saw an excellent opportunity in the partnership, enabling her to further the organization’s mission of education.

“This bird is an ambassador,” Rutger said. “She can speak more loudly than we can.”

Rutger said people nowadays are disconnected with nature and the natural world. But seeing an animal like a golden eagle up close has a colorful impact on people and they become more respectful and aware of nature and wildlife, she said.

Stan Searles, curator of ornithology and aquatics at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, agreed that there is a disconnection to the natural world and said there are various ways for people to reconnect.

“Exhibiting live animals properly with qualified people and a critical message is an important tool,” Searles said. “Mona is a bona fide wildlife expert. She is well experienced and knowledgeable in the field.”

But Rutger’s educational message is being overshadowed by PETA’s concern for the animal’s well-being, she said.

“This is ending up with a negative tone for the center’s mission,” Rutger said.

Rutger agreed that having the bird at a sporting event isn’t the best situation for the animal, but the eagle cannot be returned to the wild. Flash was rescued and sent to Back To The Wild for care after she was hit by a truck in California.

Stafford said in her letter that according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, two options are available for injured animals that cannot be returned to the wild – placing them in the care of a licensed facility for educational purposes, or euthanizing them.

“The eagle is disabled; its life in the wild is over,” Rutger said. “It can have a new mission.”

Hauff said the bird can still have an impact and an educational message without being transported to and from the sporting events.

“A rehabilitated eagle should be safeguarded in a sanctuary, not exhibited,” Hauff said. “Renting the animal is not supporting rehab.”

Back To The Wild received an initial $5,000 payment for use of Flash and receives $1,000 each time she visits Kent State, $750 for each photo session and a $1,000 annual fee to use her.

“It may appear as a selfish cause, but it benefits the organization and many people,” Rutger said. “We’re exploiting the animal to rescue and save more animals.”

Hauff has made plans to visit Rutger and tour Back To The Wild’s facility.

Contact general assignment reporter Darren D’Altorio at [email protected].