Humane Society upset over Boone County Fair bunny prizes

Friday, July 24, 2009 | 6:25 p.m. CDT; updated 6:36 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 24, 2009
"What's grandma gonna do with a bunny?" Dalton and Taylor Fisher's grandma asks as they both pay $5 to try to win a rabbit at the Boone County Fair on Thursday. Many animal advocates around Columbia have been asking similar questions since the new game showed up at the fair this year.

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.


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“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.”

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Charles Dudley Jr July 24, 2009 | 8:15 p.m.

Ms Forister should really be sure her own shelter is in proper and clean operational conditions with no animal stink to be smelt before she goes talking about others and how they care for animals.

(Report Comment)
Brian Earls July 25, 2009 | 8:56 a.m.

I do not feel giving away animals at a fair as a prize is in any way appropriate. As a person who has inherited three rabbits from people who have made poor decisions for Easter presents, I can attest that proper rabbit care is not easy and at times is very expensive, especially as they begin to age. I have also captured domestic rabbits people have decided to let go in parks. I can hardly think the rabbits obtained as a prize will be even as well thought out as the Easter presents. It is my hope that the people who win the rabbits are prepared for 8 to 10 years of some really good and some really bad times, but I hardly believe this will be the case. This type of game has been popping up in fairs for some time now, mainly in small towns with little regulation, but it is difficult for me to believe that Boone County would allow this to happen. If you are going to the fair I urge you to not play this game. Please no more rabbits left on my doorstep-it is enough work keeping up with my current herd.

(Report Comment)
Richard Hayden July 25, 2009 | 11:02 a.m.

It is nice to see someone taking the time to share their conscience with others, and how they think the world should work. When the parents of the children are required to accept responsibility that is where other people not involved can be at peace with their own conscience. In other words, MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS.

(Report Comment)
Greg Collins July 25, 2009 | 11:30 a.m.

Societal nannies to the rescue ... as one comment above stated appropriately, make sure your own house is in order before dictating to the rest of the community.

The solution is simple. Don't want a rabbit? Don't play the game - simple as that. But get the hell out of other peoples' business who might enjoy winning a pet rabbit.

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock July 25, 2009 | 6:37 p.m.

Ms Forister should take her rabbits from the H.S. and let the game operators use them as a prize. I am sure the game operators would love the idea as they would save money from not having to purchase them.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro July 25, 2009 | 7:43 p.m.

@Allan Sharrock:
Silly rabbit. Trix are for kids.
Besides, all you need are 2 of the "correct" kind of wabbits and before you know it, you have a whole mess of 'em.
(Sort of like tribbles. Except that tribbles are born pregnant.)

(Report Comment)
Doreen Frappier July 26, 2009 | 8:02 a.m.

Having a pet requires a great deal of thought. I don't think that people who attend a fair and win rabbits as a prize have time to prepare and think it through. It is not cheap to own a rabbit and it requires a long term commitment. One must purchase a proper cage, food, and provide the proper conditions for a rabbit to remain healthy. Rabbit cages need a lot of cleaning and the rabbits require attention. I am against giving live animals away as carnival prizes. My children will certainly not be playing the game. I hope the fair board will reconsider their decision to allow live animals to be given as prizes in the future.

(Report Comment)

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