Pet Expo show 2013, Raccoon Shame?

With the welcome move to soon ban circus animals from performing, it was a shock to see on facebook that the Pet Expo Show, held at Bluewater, Kent, featured a bike riding Raccoon last weekend. This animal belongs to a woman who tried it as an act on Britain's Got Talent. Thankfully she didn't get far.
The show was created and run by Sherwood Media and Events Limited PO Box 92 Wicklow Town Co. Wicklow Ireland (t) 00353 (0) 404 66855 (e) and is not their only show. Interestingly one of the directors previously was a director of a company called Pet Expo Ltd, which was made insolvent in 2011.
The Pet Expo website contains this quote "A true pet lover's paradise dedicated to promoting responsible ownership of pets". Except a large number of people feel this wasn't the case. Facebook has a number of people who were actually there and who say they voiced their displeasure at various issues, not just the performing Raccoon. There appears to have been promotion of pets as Xmas gifts, the pushing of species with specialist needs as easy pets and more.
We have tweeted Pet Expo, no reply. The RSPCA released today an open letter to Bluewater which I felt was the wrong target but after a twitter exchange between me and them tonight they hadn't worked out who the organisers were or that they have at least 2 other shows. I sent them all the details and asked them to contact the organisers directly.
This is the RSPCA letter:

This is the Bluewater statement tonight:

So far there is nothing from Pet Expo, an update will be posted if they respond.
A company called Pet Nation claim they had already told the organisers not to feature this and were ignored. It is sad that animals are still being exploited in this way surely? I am told that the owner of the Raccoon, apparently a behaviourist, has stated that the Raccoon does it "because she enjoys it". If that was true, surely she wouldn't have needed to train it......

Added 30th October, statements from the Raccoon owner and show organisers Pet Expo

Statement from Kimberly Unger, owner of Melanie Raccoon

It's quite obvious that everyone is truly uneducated about who I am or how I work with Melanie! I have spent my entire life with animals; acquired a Bachelor's degree in Biology; a Master's degree in Equine Science; spent years studying natural equine behaviour with an internationally renown equine behaviourist, did bird song behaviour research with a renown professor in this field; took numerous classes in animal behaviour while at college/university; trained my dog to be both a certified therapy dog and Reading Education Assistance dog to take her to hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and libraries; cared for ill baby birds; worked with horses, parrots, and multiple other animal species; cared for all of the animals while getting my biology degree, etc. I purchased Melanie Raccoon as a baby. I emphatically believe that raccoon do NOT make good pets. Because I have a very comprehensive background working with animals, I undertook the challenge of acquiring a raccoon. I was even going to pursue a PhD and study raccoon intelligence. I NEVER force Melanie to do something that she does not want to do. I have socialized Melanie from Day 1. I use clicker training, a form of secondary positive reinforcement, to teach Melanie certain behaviours. I clearly have an understanding of this training method because I did do an entire Master's thesis on the subject! By teaching Melanie different tasks, it not only enhanced her mental capability, but it also strengthened our already amazing bond. Melanie readily participates in certain behaviours just for the enjoyment of the activity itself. One photo says nothing! It's like a sound bite. For instance, I will present her with her scooter, and she will ride around the room on it! When I say "good girl," she will start clapping! Raccoons have the intelligence of a 3 or 4 year old child. To put them in an enclosure like one in a zoo gives them no way to be mentally stimulated--but just pace around. I give her interactive foraging toys, take her for daily walks, etc. Melanie is the most amazing animal, and I treat her as though she is my daughter. She has more toys than most children! She sleeps with me at night. I spend every single day with her at home. The time, patience, and dedication that I give to little Melanie is what has made her the most wonderful animal that she truly is!!!! Raccoons should NOT be kept as pets because the require so much space, mental stimulation, etc. If anyone saw my presentation at Bluewater, they would see how I educated the audiences about Melanie and raccoons in general. I HAVE both the knowledge, time, dedication, etc. to give to Melanie. I also want to educate the public that raccoons are extremely intelligent and deserve respect. Raccoons are pests in the USA and many other countries. They are killed for no reason. I want to change the perception of raccoons! I merely teach Melanie different tasks because doing so stimulates her both mentally and physically. Believe me, if a raccoon does not want to do something, it will not do it! As a vegan for nearly 20 years, a true animal lover, and person with a vast scientific and animal-related background, I would NEVER do something that harmed Melanie!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please keep your uneducated and judgmental comments to yourselves!

Kimberley Unger

Statement from Pet Expo in response to RSPCA open letter

Dear David,

In response to your press release, The organizers of Pet Expo would like to express their deep concern that you have portrayed the show as not promoting responsible pet ownership. Pet Expo as an event had many aspects; we invited charities such as Battersea Cats & Dogs Home who fundraised and also ran fun dog shows for dog lovers. We had a full programme of entertainment, more serious Pet Talks, Ask the Vet Clinic, Animal Behaviorists and stage entertainment with Leigh Homes from Birds & Beast roadshow, The Animal Man and a doggie fashion show whereby 8 dogs participated who had their owners with them at all times. The dogs had rehearsed and were happy to go on stage, these dogs are well taken care off and loved by their owners. The show’s theme was not to promote getting a pet for Christmas but more about educating the public on what is involved in taking care of a pet and choosing one to suit your lifestyle, with micro pigs being there along with their parents to let the public see just how large these pigs will be by when fully grown. We are all too aware of the large numbers of dogs
that sadly are put down each year and we would therefore strongly promote Pet Adoption. We had in fact animal charities involved in re homing with dogs looking for forever homes and also there was Pet Expo at all times.

The comments about both Kimberely and Bluewater being irresponsible in our opinion are unjust and come from armchair critics who did not attend our event. As soon as we became aware of the negative feedback to the Raccoon on stage we immediately took action and stopped the interactive talk from the stage programme.

As organizers we are animal lovers, one of whom has been involved in animal welfare all her life and has on many occasions put her own life in danger to rescue horses, ponies and dogs from appalling conditions. We have adopted and rehomed cats, dogs and horses in a personal capacity including spending time gaining the trust of feral cats who are now extremely happy and content living as part of the family. It is unfortunate that no representative from the RSPCA was actually there at the event to speak directly to the owner of the much loved raccoon who has been hand reared and trained with patience, clicker and treat methods and was in NO WAY forced to ‘perform’, more playing with her toys.

A copy of the Racoon owner Kimberely’s response which was posted on the Bluewater facebook is also attached. We would also like to strongly point out that Kimberley featured on Britain’s got talent a couple of years ago and there seems to have been no negative feedback to that and also appeared at two other Pet Shows earlier this year with no negative feedback that we were aware of.

We are disappointed that the people complaining about a much loved and extremely well looked after animal do not put their energy dealing with the genuine cruelty and animal abuse that is rampant in the UK
We must ask that you withdraw your negative criticism of Pet Expo and Bluewater.

Yours sincerely,

Marie Murphy and Lesley Magill.
Sherwood Media & Events UK Limited