BUCKHANNON – Buckhannon’s Animal Care and Control Commission on Monday voted to recommend that Buckhannon City Council adopt an ordinance that would prohibit the use of animals as prizes.
Mayor David McCauley said having the ordinance drawn up became necessary after several incidents that occurred during the 2019 West Virginia Strawberry Festival.
City officials first discussed the idea at a meeting in July 2019 when council members voted to direct city attorney Tom O’Neill to write a first draft of the ordinance but had not taken it up since until this week. (Read more about how the ordinance first came about here.)
“Tom does a great job, and I think he has captured the spirit of what we were trying to do here,” McCauley said. “I’ve talked with Shane Turner (owner of Gambill Amusements) about this, he kind of winced when I first brought it up and I said, ‘Shane, you got to be aware these kids are getting these goldfish or these little turtles or reptiles and they’re smashing the bags and killing the animals right down there in the parking lot – not all of them, but it happens. It’s not a good practice.”’
Animal Care and Control Commission member Elissa Mills said there are issues regarding the vendors who use the animals.
“There was a little girl who won a turtle and her family took the turtle home,” Mills said. “Evidently, the guy that had the turtles wasn’t feeding them proper turtle diet, whatever that is. They had the turtle, they took it to the vet twice, which for an exotic is not cheap, but the turtle died because it had an impacted digestive system.”
Police Chief Matt Gregory said he had personal experience with children winning animals and then not wanting to care for it.
“During the last festival I remember when my son and some of his friends came up to me with an iguana,” Gregory said. “They had pooled their money to win the iguana, but then no one actually wanted it, so my son Josh got it.”
Gregory said he eventually told his son to take the iguana to Lt. Doug Loudin because Loudin had previous experience with iguanas.
McCauley read a key part of the ordinance to commission members.
“No person may offer or accept any live animal, reptiles, livestock or wildlife as a prize for, or as an inducement to, enter any contest, game or other competition or as an inducement to enter a place of amusement or as an incentive to enter into any business agreement whereby the offer is for the purpose of attracting trade or is a promotion for any other commercial purpose,” McCauley said.
He said if passed by city council, it will be in place before the 2020 Strawberry Festival.
“I’ll deliver this to Shane Turner and say, ‘Shane, this is going to be in place by the time the festival starts in May, so just tell your vendors that would normally do that, not anymore,’” McCauley said.
The ordinance specifically mentions that it will not affect certain youth organizations such as the Upshur FFA or 4-H.
Specifically, the ordinance states that, “the prohibition contained in Article I of this Ordinance shall not apply to fish or to animals given as prizes at a rodeo contest or livestock show or as part of a Future Farmers of America program, a 4-H project or show, or other activity of a bona-fide youth organization whose purpose and practices are designed to teach or promote animal husbandry, agriculture or other academic fields.”
Commission member Alison Clausen Whitehair made a motion to recommend that council adopt the ordinance, which was seconded by Mills prior to passing unanimously.
Council members will consider the ordinance – ordinance 442, prohibiting the awarding of live animals as prizes – on first reading at their regular meeting 7 p.m. Thursday in city hall. If passed on first and second reading, the ordinance would go into effect 30 days following second reading or March 7, 2020.