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PETA wants animatronic groundhog: 'Who are they kidding?'

Punxsutawney Phil might be the most pampered groundhog in the world, but that's not good enough for the folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

They sent a letter to Phil's handlers, urging them to use a robotic rodent rather than the real Phil on Tuesday.

"Make the compassionate decision to use an animatronic Phil and retire the live groundhogs who are used for Groundhog Day activities to a sanctuary," wrote Gemma Vaughan, an animals in entertainment specialist for PETA. "Tradition is no excuse for cruelty."

The letter calls it "cruel" to keep groundhogs on display year-round, adding that groundhogs are shy creatures that become stressed when handled by humans or facing large crowds.

A proposal to replace the iconic Phil is blasphemous, said Bill Deeley, president of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

"I mean, come on, this is just crazy," Deeley said Wednesday.

"Phil is probably treated better than the average child in Pennsylvania," Deeley said. "He's got air-conditioning in the summer, his pen is heated in winter. ... He has everything but a TV in there. What more do you want?"

Phil, who is said to be 124 years old, lives year-round in a pen in the town library with three other groundhogs. "I think one of them is named Stinky or something," Deeley said.

Every Feb. 2, Phil is the honored guest at an early-morning party at Gobbler's Knob, a wooded area outside of town where thousands of tourists watch Phil issue his annual weather forecast. As per legend, if Phil sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter; if he does not, there will be an early spring.

Deeley would not predict whether Phil will see his shadow this year. "But I think I've had enough of winter," he said.

He has similar feelings for PETA.

"Who are they kidding• We probably should have just taken the e-mail and deleted it."

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