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Is goldfish racing cruel?

Fish lovers of the world, unite! By fish lovers, we don't mean those who enjoy eating fish, but kindhearted animal lovers who regard fish as sensitive fellow members of the animal kingdom.

The latest craze in the Wild West of the United States is goldfish racing, held in Arizona and Utah bars, and more recently on the east coast in Florida. Goldfish race in narrow troughs, hurried along by jets of water squirted at them by noisy drinkers in various states of sobriety. Would the goldfish prefer to spend their days circling aimlessly inside small glass bowls? Maybe they find the jets of water as refreshing as a spa bath is to humans.

In Britain there's even talk of goldfish races being shown on TV, with a leading firm of bookmakers eager to provide nationwide betting facilities.

Heather Wells, who studies journalism at Arizona State University, wrote an interesting story about goldfish racing after visiting Monkey Pants Bar and Grill, less than a mile from the uni. Goldfish races are held there on Thursday nights. The patrons, mostly young, compete for a $25 gift certificate, a T-shirt and a crown.

"Monkey Pants supplies the goldfish," Wells explained. "Before the races, people who want to race put their name and a made-up fish name on a slip of paper, which is then placed into a jar.

"When called up to race, goldfish racers carefully choose a fish that looks energetic and ready to swim from a variety of about 15 fish individually placed in plastic dishes. They then pick up a squirt gun and prepare to launch their goldfish in a water-filled rain gutter, split down the middle to serve as two racing lanes, and squirt it to victory."

MONKEY PANTS BAR AND GRILL

"People identify with logos and pictures," says Norm, a customer whose message is posted on Monkey Pants's free-speech website. "Nobody knows what Monkey Pants means. It sounds like a Saturday morning kiddies' show, not a place where adults go to drink and watch sports."

Another patron, Catherine, promptly wrote, "Don't listen to Norm! I love the name 'Monkey Pants.' It is the only reason I even stopped in the place."

Next we read that Canadian stand-up comedian, author and actor Silvi Olen thinks goldfish races are cool. She wrote:

I went to a place called "Monkey Pants" and got to watch the races. No, not horse races, dog races or even midgets racing around a track, but goldfish racing. Yep, you read that right. Goldfish racing. Two fish race against each other down a straight water trough. The rules were simple. No eating the live fish. So it was funny to watch. As the fish are racing, their coaches are running beside the water trough with a squirt bottle in hand, trying to make them go faster.

Digressing for a moment, we also learnt that Toronto-based Olen is currently on a Whatever It Takes Tour. She hopes to perform on stage in every Canadian province and territory.

In Florida, 67-year-old British millionaire stuntman, entertainer and entrepreneur Grumpy Joe Weston-Webb holds goldfish races every evening for patrons of his new dinner theatre in Orlando, near Disney World.

He may strike trouble from fish lovers, such as those who objected when Kelly Payne, a Salt Lake City, Utah, bar owner began promoting goldfish racing last year. Payne told a TV reporter that after their racing days were over, the goldfish would be fed to other fish, or else his customers could give them a good home.

Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Humane Society of Utah, told a TV reporter, "We believe that animals have feelings like we do and they want to enjoy life. They can feel pain and fear and so we think when something like this happens, it can make people feel possibly unsympathetic to abuse of other life forms."

But in Florida, Grumpy Joe sounded more hopeful. "Goldfish only have a four-second memory span, so training them is a challenge," he told Nancy Imperiale, of the Orlando Sentinel. She reported that more than a dozen goldfish were kept in a glass tank beneath a sign DO NOT FEED FISH.

Before the recent opening of Fiascos Circus and Magic Show (on August 14), Grumpy Joe said the dinner theatre would offer more than 100 menu items, unlimited beer, wine and soda, and "a night of sophisticated dining ruined by staff and technology."

On the internet, Joe's website features a video showing the delights awaiting his guests. The gaudy home page reads: Fiascos Dinner Show - The Silliest and most unique Dinner Show in Orlando. A night of slapstick, fun and laughter where Good Dining meets Disaster! There's a large picture of a worried, grey-haired man speaking on a cell phone, and an invitation to Click "Grumpy Joe" to enter site.

Tyler King wrote in the Orlando Business Journal: "Prior to making the move to Orlando, Weston-Webb ran a 70-seater dinner cruise providing bizarre evening entertainment on the River Soar in Leicestershire, England. Guests there were surprised with programmed leaks, a smoking engine and at least one crew member overboard on every trip.

"From there, Weston-Webb turned his attention to dinner theaters, launching a comedic corporate dining attraction called Cafe Chaos. During the evening, the distraught headwaiter tried to present a first-class, high-quality, three-course meal while everything around him went awry...

"Weston-Webb also hopes to gain an edge on the competition with his reputation in the U.K. Well-documented in the British press for his outlandish stunts, the owner is betting that his dinner show will draw in the large numbers of British tourists who flock to Central Florida every year.

"'I can only keep my fingers crossed,' he says. 'I can't be pessimistic. Otherwise, I would shoot myself out of my human cannon and not bother rigging up the net.'"

Perhaps he hasn't seen this press release the Humane Society of Utah issued on October 7, 2004:

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Story first posted September 2005

Copyright 2005

Eric Shackle

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