COLUMBIA — The operators of a carnival game at the Boone County Fair are giving away bunnies as a prize, something that has the Central Missouri Humane Society telling people to avoid the fair.
Patty Forister, executive director of the Humane Society, has received phone calls from people who attended the fair, complaining that the game is exploiting the animals. She discourages fair-goers from playing the game.
“We promote responsible pet ownership,” Forister said. “And people who go to the fair to eat cotton candy and ride the rides aren’t thinking about making a long-term commitment with a pet.”
Despite Forister’s concerns, fair manager George Harris said the fair will not shut down the game.
“The rabbits are well cared for and they’re happy,” Harris said. “They make the kids so happy that they’ve won a live rabbit. It’s a good event.”
The carnival game is owned by Gail Mitchell, who said she got the idea of giving rabbits away after seeing it done at other fairs.
“We’re animal people,” Mitchell said. “We don’t mistreat them, and we don’t want them to be mistreated.”
For only $2, players get the chance to throw seven ping pong balls at a floating bowl — $5 gets the player 25 balls. Those who hit the target get a live bunny. When players win a rabbit at the game, they also receive a bag of rabbit feed and a care card that instructs them how to further tend to their new pet.
Children who play the game are required to have a parent sign a card giving permission to take a live rabbit if they win. Mitchell said she has not had anyone complain to her.
“It’s because of the way we go about it,” she said. “A child has to have parent approval.”
Mitchell said she obtains the rabbits from breeders. If there are rabbits left over by the end of the week, she keeps them until the next carnival, giving them food, water and shelter.
Mitchell said they also have stuffed animals to give to children who win if their parents aren’t with them or don’t want to take home a live rabbit.
Forister said there would probably be some rabbits that find a good family from the game, but that the novelty would quickly wear off for people who are not ready to care for the animals.
“We have wonderful rabbits here that have been waiting for months,” Forister said. “We would encourage people who have thought about the commitment and who have done their homework to come out and see us.”
Taking care of a rabbit includes giving it enough space to exercise and a box or shelter to keep it out of the elements. Forister said rabbits require daily cleaning because they urinate so much and, though they don’t need shots, they need their to have their teeth checked and nails trimmed. Rabbits also have special diets that require feed such as timothy hay, alfalfa and mineral blocks.
Forister first became aware of the game after receiving complaints from people who had attended the fair and were concerned about live rabbits being used as a prize.
“I don’t think what they’re doing is illegal in a way,” Forister said. “But from a humane aspect it’s not what we’re trying to educate people about. It kind of opposes what we do on a daily basis.”