The RSPCA has condemned a stunt involving a raccoon riding a bicycle at an event at Bluewater Shopping Centre near Dartford, Kent. The centre hosted the three-day Pet Expo, where animal lovers could learn how best to care for their pets and discover new breeds, from Friday. American animal trainer Kimberly Unger had taken Melanie the raccoon to the shopping centre over the weekend and the pair performed tricks in front of hundreds of people.
But seeing the animal on the back of a bicycle with stabilisers was unacceptable for many people - who claimed the raccoon was being "abused" and "degraded". Some went as far as to say that Bluewater ought to be boycotted completely for hosting the event. Now the RSPCA has criticised the event for "portraying wild animals in such a demeaning light".
Head of communications David Cowdrey said: "Using wild animals in crude circus-style acts under the guise of 'responsible ownership' is entirely misjudged. What kind of message does portraying wild animals in such a demeaning light send to young people? That animals are here for our amusement. It entirely contradicts the idea of 'responsible ownership' and consideration for the interests of animals."
Bluewater said it would not be hosting the Pet Expo again. A statement said: "Bluewater is aware that some of the content within the Pet Expo show staged over the weekend caused concern. We take the concerns raised by the public very seriously, they will help to inform the development of our calender of future events. In the meantime, we would like to apologise for any concerns the show has raised, and confirm that there are no plans to run Pet Expo again."