From left, city recorder Randy Sanders and mayor David McCauley at Thursday's city council meeting.

Council to consider prohibition on giving away goldfish, iguanas and all other animals as prizes within city limits

BUCKHANNON – Fairs and festivals are frequently no fun for goldfish given away as prizes to unprepared pet owners.

Following some controversy about the gifting of goldfish – and even baby iguanas – as prizes to children who won certain games at the 2019 West Virginia Strawberry Festival Carnival, Buckhannon City Council took the first steps Thursday to ban the prizing or gifting of animals of any kind within city limits.

Mayor David McCauley told council the matter had arisen at the most recent Animal Care and Control Commission meeting, where several members told the mayor baby iguanas were being awarded as prizes at the Strawberry Festival Carnival in May.

McCauley said he also heard from multiple sources that some children who won goldfish were purposely killing or harming the orange fish immediately after winning them.

“I didn’t witness it, but I heard about it,” McCauley said. “There were kids that were winning the goldfish and they just smashed them in the parking lot.”

“I became aware of the goldfish stuff, but I’ve also come to understand that they were giving away baby iguanas for prizes at the carnival,” he continued, “and so, we tend to think of Animal Care and Control mainly about dogs and cats, but our group is very sensitive to the exploitation of all animals, and they have asked me to bring to the council the opportunity to have (city attorney) Tom O’Neill add an amendment that would prohibit … that in the future and at the Strawberry Festival for that matter … we would disallow the gifting away of animals.”

McCauley noted city officials would consult with Gambill Amusements, which stages the carnival.

The Animal Care and Control Commission recommended the prizing or gifting of animals within city limits be outlawed via a simple amendment to Ordinance 397, the City of Buckhannon’s Animal Care and Control Ordinance.

Robin Keough, a member of the Animal Care and Control Commission, said Friday that a decision to ban the prizing of animals is the “humane one.”

“Pet ownership needs to be a conscious decision that requires preparation for the care of any animal,” Keough said. “Awarding a live animal of any kind to an unprepared fairgoer is unkind to the animal. There are many prizes that would be more desirable and appropriate.”

In reference to the second of two proposed revisions to the animal control ordinance, McCauley said the Animal Care and Control Commission has decided it best to replace local veterinarian Tonya Pickens, owner and operator of Stonewall Veterinary Hospital, Inc. because her schedule hasn’t allowed her to attend any meetings since being appointed to the commission.

“We had an Animal Care and Control meeting about two weeks ago, and I would tell you that Tonya Pickens, our new veterinarian, has not been able to attend a single meeting,” McCauley explained. “We would like to continue to have her as an ex officio non-voting member on the commission … but it becomes difficult to establish a quorum sometimes when you only have four regular attendees.

“If it so happens that two people are on vacation or sick or whatever, we can’t conduct business [due to the lack of a quorum]. We’ve not had a failure to have a meeting yet, but we’d like to have five regular participating members and be able to call upon Tonya as needed as our vet expert.”

In addition to Keough, Alison Clausen Whitehair, Elissa Mills and the mayor are members of the commission.

McCauley recommended council approve authorizing the city attorney to add those two amendments to the Animal Care and Control Ordinance.

However, council will have an opportunity to review the changes before they’re voted on.

Councilman David Thomas made a motion to approve directing O’Neill to draft the changes to the ordinance, which was seconded by councilwoman Mary Albaugh prior to passing unanimously.

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