Why 'Winning' a Pet Is a Bad Idea

Goldfish prize
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We’ve all been there: strolling along the boardwalk with our family on a warm summer night when we stumble upon kids gathered around a lit-up display, some of whom giddily walk away with small plastic boxes containing hermit crabs. Then comes the pressure to join the fun, despite the fact that you are far away from home and never thought about such a pet up until this second. 

Then there are the turtles, rabbits, small lizards and bagged-up goldfish who come home as summer carnival prizes. In the heat of the moment, a young animal lover can become quite determined to win the cute little animal prize. Heck, kids (or their parents) might even feel like they are rescuing them. But by paying money for the game and taking home their unexpected “prizes,” kids and their parents are creating more demand for an industry that has everything but the animals’ well-being as a priority. Because of this, many states and localities have enacted laws to ban giving certain animals as prizes, like chicks and rabbits, and some states prohibit awarding any type of animal as a prize. It gets confusing, though, because some laws will allow animals to be won in games of skill but not in games of chance.

“Throwaway” Pets?

So what’s all the fuss about a measly little crab, you might ask? Well, despite their name, hermit crabs are not solitary animals and actually naturally travel in groups. Properly cared for, they can live for decades and can actually be quite engaging little creatures. Hermit crabs do not breed in captivity, so those sold as pets are captured from the wild. Furthermore, their care is a lot more specialized than you might think. That little cage they are typically sold with at the boardwalk is not sufficient for their well-being. They need proper food and water, adequate space (at least a 10-gallon tank), lighting, humidity, new shells to move into, etc. What’s more, their shells are often painted and peddled in tourist areas, and they are even offered for “free” after you buy the inadequately sized cage. This is really nothing more than a scam that results in a tremendous number of impulse buys.

Goldfish are also commonly offered to kids as carnival prizes, party favors and super-cheap pets. You often see them in plastic bags and tiny bowls, but actually, they each require rather large aquariums to thrive. These friendly little fish can live 15 to 20 years, but most do not survive very long because of their inadequate conditions prior to purchase or lack of proper care once they become pets. While goldfish are somewhat hardy, they are not indestructible, and the trip from carnival to home or hotel room usually does most of them in within the first few hours to days.

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