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The second plague

People always assume that owning a toy/baby store is all fun and games. Isn’t it?

This summer, we started selling live frogs through a company called Wild Creations. The African Dwarf Frog species is, by all accounts, hardy and well-suited to small ecosystem living conditions. They were an instant phenomenon. Kids were totally entranced by the playful antics of the frogs, and we were pleased to have found a new best-seller. Win-win, right?

Wrong.

Soon, emails and calls started trickling in from concerned citizens about the welfare of these little frogs. “Sentient beings” in a little box didn’t sit well with these folks. Most were respectful, a few were not. Meanwhile, Wild Creations maintained that their ecosystems (complete with snail and bamboo plant) were developed by zoologists with expertise in this particular species. They pointed out that, in the wild, tiny frogs are the rock-bottom of the food chain, and hardly ever survive anywhere close to the 3-5 years they average in captivity.

What to do? I respect animals, but I’m not a vegetarian and I will always squish a spider if it comes too close. More importantly, I value my freedom to choose the issues that I’m passionate about, and to make such choices on behalf of my business. But I’m also in the business of customer service, and if there’s a product in our store that makes customers uncomfortable, that’s a problem. Isn’t it?

So after consulting the store managers, we decided to discontinue selling the frogs. Who could know for sure whether or not they were “happy” in those little tanks? A few days later, we got a stern email from PETA. PETA?! I told them they were late to the party, and a decision had been made prior to their involvement. Delighted by the outcome, they asked me to confirm that we “will never carry live animals for sale in the future” since their members and supporters would be “grateful to hear about such a policy.”

This irked me. We were foregoing good money, money that helps cover the pay and benefits of human beings. Money that is hard to come by in a recession. But we weren’t doing it because PETA wanted us to. We did it because we wanted to. Certainly not because we had any desire to become a success story for an organization that suggested Ben & Jerry’s make ice cream out of human breast milk.

Next, I got an email from the founder of Wild Creations, obviously disappointed. He urged me to make a public statement, because “action groups… should not be allowed to bully stores or individuals into decisions… These kinds of actions spark continued reprisal, and you may next be pressured to discontinue…other products that are educational and serve a valuable function in your community, but fail to meet everyone’s standards for acceptability.”

I think he’s probably right, and I’m not entirely convinced we made the right decision. Where does it end? If an avid babywearer is turned off by the sight of strollers, do we get rid of those next? And what about bottles? Plastic toys made in China? The texture of any diverse community is created by our differences, and our ability to get along in spite of them. It’s always a give and take. We did what we felt was right, and that’s the best we can do. Isn’t it?

4 comments

  1. Woot!

    I agree that it’s hard to know which side is “right” in some situations (and this is particular)…but I think it’s absolutely fabulous to hear about people–and companies–that are putting THOUGHT into their decision making instead of just making knee jerk reactions.

    Go you!

  2. I applaud you for making the decision to stop selling live frogs. When we lord over another species, no matter how far down on the food-chain they are, we are doing the individual animal, ourselves and our children a disservice. Wouldn’t it be a better idea to introduce our children to the wonders in our own backyards rather than give them a novelty pet-in-a-box?
    I firmly believe that you made the right decision. You offer us quality gear in a great setting and it is an absolute pleasure to do business with you. I would have been sorely disappointed to walk into your Derby Street shop and see frogs in boxes. So, cheers to you.

  3. “When we lord over another species, no matter how far down on the food-chain they are, we are doing the individual animal, ourselves and our children a disservice.”

    would that not also refer to a dog in an apartment? or even a house? or ANY pet EVER? If all these animal rights kooks had their way my kids wouldnt be allowed to catch a firefly in a jar or bring home a snail.

    Let me tell you about a friend of mine called Francis. He was a grow a frog that my 4th grade class ordered as a school project (african clawed I believe). We named him Francis as we were unaware whether he was a boy or girl (later found out he was a boy). He was the HIT of the class and drew in so much awe and wonderment that every kid in that class knew way more about reptiles and carnivores and ecosystems and africa and animals in general than they ever would have otherwise- and he really brought some quiet kids out of their shells that year.

    Fastforward to the end of the school year- what do we do with Francis? Well somehow I ended up with him as my pet. He was warm and loving- he LOVED getting his belly rubbed and would lay in your hand if you stuck it in his tank. He was smart and friendly and would be active when people were in the kitchen (where he lived in his little aquarium). He had some rocks, a fake plant, and a whole lotta love from my entire family. He loved eating chicken and we would feed him little bits every time we had chicken for dinner. My brothers and I would be fascinated by watching him tear that chicken to shreds.

    He was the hit of the household and with all of our friends for years. He was the littlest member of my family and he lived 13 YEARS! I was almost out of college when he finally croaked (sorry couldnt help myself).

    I don’t mean to sound crass but can’t some people find a cause that’s worth fighting for? I don’t feel bad for a second that I had one of these frogs. He lived like a king, 10 times as long as he would of in the wild, and provided years of learning, entertainment, and love.

  4. Honestly, my opinion of your store/blog/business ethics has jumped up a couple thousand points after reading this blog entry. I was so glad to read about your annoyance at PETA!! It is crazy fanatacism to forbid and swear off the sale of all live animals just because…….. why? PETA wants you to? PETA wants to bully you? PETA has a point to prove and will use you to get there? I agree wholeheartedly with your discontent at the events that transpired. Continue selling strollers, China toys with plastic, and anything else your heart desires. It is up to us, the consumer, to select which goods we will or will not purchase based on our likes, beliefs, values and needs. Let it be OUR voice business listen to, and not the voice of the big bully with an even bigger agenda. hmph.

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