Outrage of the Week: Pet Shop Owner Fined for Selling Kid a Goldfish

Hi Readers — You read that headline right. Apparently in England it is now illegal to sell a pet to anyone under age 16 who is not accompanied by an adult. (England? Are you feeling okay? Something bump you in the head?) Anyway — this granny did! And she was fined 1000 pounds (about $1500) and given a curfew and forced to wear an “electronic tag.”

Even more unbelievable: It was a sting! The kid — a 14-year-old — was working for the police! And the authorities had targeted this particular shop because on another occasion the granny ostensibly sold a gerbil to a 14-year-old girl with learning disabilities, and there are unsubstantiated reports that the girl unwittingly allowed it to die.

The Free-Range issue here, besides just plain jaw-dropping, head-scratching, don’t-you-have-any-crimes-besides-underage-goldfish-peddling-to-worry-about disbelief? Children and pets go together. I can see where I’d be a little peeved if my sons came home with a hamster one day. (Tickled, too.) But that does not seem like a legal issue so much as a parenting one.  Just another instance of  officially “protecting” us from things we don’t need protection from. If I were a gerbil, I’d go over there and bite some lawmakers. (Hey, I may STILL do that.) — Lenore

Can we keep it, Mommy?

39 Responses

  1. What a perfect opportunity to teach a kid some responsibility…lost.
    Why would we ever teach kids to be responsible for their own actions (well, Junior, you bought the fish, now you have to do chores to pay for his food, and clean his bowl, etc.), when we can blame an adult! Make them suffer!

  2. The harsh sentence was for causing unnecessary suffering – the inspectors found she was keeping a bird with an untreated broken leg.

  3. I think you have fallen into a media trap, selling the goldfish to the kid was just a small part of the prosecution. The main charge was causing suffering to a bird with a broken leg, the shop had been warned numerous times about looking after the animals properly.

  4. Well, considering that my son brings home leeches from the creek, I’d be glad, if it were goldfish for a change, *lol*. But actually I do agree that pets should not be sold to kids — and to many adults, for that matter… But to force her to wear an electronic tag and give her a curfew… well, I wonder what really is behind this story…

    So long,
    Corinna

  5. Ahh the Daily Mail — always good for an outrage, especially if you just read the headline.

    Please read this article to get some context on this story: http://enemiesofreason.co.uk/2010/03/31/the-proof-at-last/

  6. “Just another instance of officially “protecting” us from things we don’t need protection from.”

    Actually, my impression is that the law is protecting the pets, not us.

  7. I agree with Rich.

    And for all people talk about how it was “just a goldfish” the fact is that many goldfish are mistreated and die because of it. Properly cared for, goldfish can live for decades. Why do people think they only live a few weeks or months? Because they’re not taking care of their pets properly. (And goldfish are among the smarter fish out there. Trufax, you can teach them tricks! So in their short time of neglect, they’re not even being stimulated.)

  8. Although I agree with protecting animal rights, this was just overkill. Fine the woman, fine the store, whatever to set an example. But to tag her?! Like you would tag a rapist or a violent offender? And even a possible 12 month jail term?!

    She wasn’t abusing the animals. If anything she was just not on the ball, with taking care of them. And how many pet owners out there don’t do that. ie. don’t walk their dogs as much as they should, don’t clean the litter box on regular basis, god only knows how many goldfish were flushed down the toilet in days of buying them. Don’t they fall under the same law. What a mockery of the justice system, and a waste of money on the tax payers.

  9. Of all the things that children have been banned from purchasing in the UK – pets is the one I think has the most justification. I’m not sure I would say I would ever have suggested a ban, but I don’t find it appalling.

    And this isn’t a case of someone being lazy with their pet as Eric intimates. The woman isn’t simply a “pet owner” she runs a pet shop. She has responsibility for a lot of animals on an ongoing basis and the lack of care – from what I’ve read on this story – has been an ongoing problem. Selling to an underage child is just one of the many things the shop has done that are unprofessional, potentially cruel and illegal.

    If the whole thing was simply that she had sold one pet once to a 14 year old I would be a bit outraged, but reading everything else that seems to have happened I think it’s a fairly reasonable outcome. I assume they chose a curfew as part of the punishment as she was not considered fit to do community service – which would be the more common sort of sentence for something like this – so the tagging (for a mere 60 days) doesn’t seem particularly egregious to me. Banning her from working with animals would seem to be more appropriate and useful though.

  10. Without all the embellishment, it sounds like a good law. What if it was a kitten? What if it was a puppy? Better to make the kid prove he has permission to get a pet than have another unwanted pet tossed out on the streets.

    Tagging/jail is overkill, but the fine sounds completely appropriate.

  11. Yes, as others have stated, you are woefully misinformed on the full extent of the owners offenses. The media has been loving the hype over this story this week caused by not reporting the full scope. It was not “just a goldfish”. Having listened to an in depth interview on BBC Radio 2 with the woman at hand and those who brought the charges against her I am square on the side of the law in this one. Sorry. I am an avid supporter of free range kids, but this has nothing to do with childhood freedoms. It is about animal rights and animal cruelty. It may seem extreme that Great Britain has passed such a law protecting the rights of animals, but I see it as a massive point in their favor. The law also grants shop owners the right to deny selling to anyone they feel does not understand or show the commitment to caring for a living creature. Young children can still own and care for goldfish and other animals if they have a person of age who is willing to take responsibility and ensure that the pet is cared for properly.

    I’m an American ex-pat living abroad, so I can appreciate the American mindset that this law may be overkill, but I applaud England for taking a stand to help prevent animal cruelty. A world in which the smallest and seemingly least important of creatures is respected is a world where I want my children to run free range.

  12. It does some kind of strange that we keep chickens (and cows and pigs) in tiny little cages that don’t allow them freedom to move, and get upset over a goldfish, that may very well be fed to something else anyway.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m the guy who caries spiders outside rather than kill them. But given the bigger picture, there are probably more effective ways we could reduce unnecessary animal suffering.

  13. I appreciate the interest in being kind to animals, but how are battery hens treated in the UK? I always scratch my head about how distubed we are by someone not caring well for a pet when we’re so able to look the other way at how animals that produce (or are) food are treated.

  14. I’m torn between, on the one hand, wondering how involved our government(s) should be in regulating “stuff,” (though I’m far from thinking they shouldn’t be involved at all in regulating), and thinking that actually, preventing people not capable of caring for animals from owning them is a pretty good policy. I’m fine with letting a kid get a haircut of his own initiative, even a dreadful one, but also sympathetic to the idea that we might want to prevent kids from purchasing animals without their parents’ explicit approval.

    Realistically of course this isn’t going to prevent determined kids from securing pets or neglecting/mistreating animals, as there are plenty of wild insects, reptiles, and rodents (at least) available, most places.

  15. I guess I should have just said I agree with Rich, now that I’ve read that comment.

  16. There are several people that hit this one on the head – how is a goldfish suddenly to be given more rights (or a bird, or a kitten, or a dog) than the chickens that give you eggs with beak-tips cut off and left in a cage hardly taller than they are with wire bottoms where they live their entire life, or the cattle that are kept in massive pens with TONS of other cattle (ever been through Texas and seen a slaughterhouse), or the horses that are kept pregnant to create premarin for menopausal women (yes, premarine – pregnant mare urine)?

    I had a goldfish for 4 years before he died. He was pretty sickly so that he lived that long was a feat. Loved my little fish – but not enough to say that he was more deserving than the animals who give their lives in the service of my food consumption. I do try to buy food products that reflect my beliefs, but I’m never fooled that when I go out to a restaurant to have desert, they’re supporting egg farming that crams chickens into tiny cubes.

    Maybe this woman was over the top with her cruelty. I can see them wanting to get after her for that – but don’t for a second believe I’m going to buy into the mindset that a pet deserves more than a food animal. If you want to talk animal rights – start at the mass production farms.

    All that said – I agree that selling a pet to a kid under 14 is not a good idea. I think that it should be the parent coming in with the child to buy because normally it’s the parent doing the bulk of care for the pet. There are plenty of strays for younger kids to bring home to make their parents miserable as it is. 😉 I never got to just go get a pet from the store without approval (until I was 16 and it drove my Dad insane – but at that age I was completely responsible for them).

  17. Who said a goldfish deserves more rights than a food animal? Oh, wait. No one. Not. one. single. solitary. person. Clearly, this sting was a part of an ongoing cruelty investigation. In general, the animal welfare activists who are concerned over the poor treatment of pet shop animals are the same people concerned about the treament of food animals. Why make this in the an either/or proposition when it isn’t?

  18. I’m actually all for 14-year olds not being able to buy animals and I certainly think that it’s good business practice. That said, I don’t think we need a law making it a crime. I make it perfectly clear to my child that we are not adding any animals to our family on a regular basis – anytime we are around an animal and she wants it. By the time that she is able to get to a pet store on her own, she will be well aware of that fact, having heard it regularly for years. if she chooses to disregard my instructions, we have a child problem and there will be consequences to her that will include finding another home for the animal.

    This law is a free range issue because I think it, again, treats children as infants. Under this law, somehow a random shopkeeper is at fault if my child comes home with a pet I don’t want. The consequences are on the adult who failed to protect the child from itself, rather than on the child. The animal cruelty is on the parent who allowed the child to keep the unwanted animal and then didn’t insure that it was cared for and the child who brought it home and didn’t care for it, not on the storekeeper that sold it. It’s not the shopkeeper’s fault if he or she unwittingly sells an animal to an irresponsible adult.

  19. So much is going on in the UK right now. I guess I can’t expatriate there. My long-running Anglophilia is suffering.

    I feel bad for some of the folks in these recent outrages — like the teachers at the school where the kid was stuck in the tree. I’m sure a few of them just wanted to pull him down, but were so wary of the UK’s draconian child “protection” laws that they were afraid to act.

  20. @LindaLou – read the comments. You’ll see why I brought up the goldfish if you’re paying attention. I’m also not saying either/or – I’m saying all, i.e. stop paying attention to only one side. Of course this is if you’re only focusing on the animal rights portion of what I said. The rest of it is – go get her if she’s being cruel to animals, agree with not selling to under 14’s, etc.

    Hopefully that’s a little bit clearer. If not, sorry. I don’t want to do the whole nit-picking flame-war thing. (Not being snarky – that’s not my intent, hope it doesn’t come off that way.)

  21. On another note… could someone provide some numbers from Britian on pedophilia? I’m reading this line here from a link provided by a poster above:

    “I read in the paper the other day that some old lady got fined a billion pounds and thrown in jail for selling a goldfish, whereas all those pedalos are allowed free Sky Sports and Jacuzzis and kiddie porn mags when they’re in jail – even though they don’t send them to jail because they’d rather lock up hard-working taxpayers – because of human rights or something… this country…!”

    And finding it a bit hard to swallow. I mean, granted, he’s talking about pedo’s in jail… but just how many are actually in jail over there?

  22. Thank you Donna – for bringing the conversation back to the Free Range Issue.

    Surely many of the other comments here were left by people who only flirt with being Free Range.

    Free Range and Government Control just don’t go together. Where’s your belief in self-reliance and freedom to make mistakes? Freedom to make good or bad choices, even when it comes to pets?

    Examine the following list – (No, these are not universal laws, but are prohibitions like many discussed on Lenore’s blog from time to time)

    1.) Against the law to climb a tree in a park

    2.) Against the law to walk or bike to school

    3.) Against the law to stay in a car by yourself even if
    you’re old enough to sit quietly and read a book

    4.) Against the law to enter the children’s section of a
    library un-accompanied by an adult even though
    the chlld is old enough to read

    5.) Against the law to buy goldfish

    6.) scouts can’t use a real knife to carve or cut wood

    7.) scouts can’t get close to an open fire or build one

    Together, these items draw a picture of a society that is not free.

    Gettting back to the pet shop owner:

    Those of you who fault her for not taking care of her animals didn’t read the entire article, or didn’t read closely enough.

    You missed details like:

    “Pleading guilty, Mrs Higgins told Trafford magistrates the cockatiel had not been for sale and she had been bathing its eye daily.”

    and

    “She had intended to take it to the vet but had been distracted and worried because her other son was in hospital.

    Let’s cut the poor woman some slack. Wouldn’t YOU be concerned about your son being in the hospital?

    And besides that:

    “The court heard that Mrs Higgins had possessed a license to sell animals for many years (28) and had never had any problems before.”

  23. The original article was published on April 1st. Are you certain it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke?

  24. You’re right, Free Range Parent. I think I’m partially guilty of that thread derailment.

    I agree with you about the shop owner. Reading the article, it sounds like everyone jumped on her for the bird as if that was an extension of her entire store. I didn’t see at all that any of the welfare people offered to help her since it was apparent she needed help while she worried on her son.

    With the issues you brought up… it’s just sad because the kids (and adults) in Britian aren’t very free… and the US is slowly beginning to follow suit. The only time people will notice is when they are smacked in the face with the fact they can’t do something *they* consider common sense – like letting their kid play on a playground without having to sign a release form or something.

  25. OK, I was really skeptical on your other post about the haircut when everyone kept insisting that kids run off and get unauthorized, crazy haircuts with their own money all the time and parents are suing/screaming at salon workers but maybe the world really is that crazy. Why oh why do we never expect our children to accept responsibility anymore? And people think we’re the crazy ones, sheesh!

    As for the law, I think it’s a good sentiment but shouldn’t need to be a law. Surely, the pet store has a return policy for those miscreants that show up at home with an unwanted pet. The pet gets returned, the child gets punished and learns a lesson…end of story.

  26. MaeMae – I think that would be a much better way to handle it. Though I recall from my youth (some time ago🙂 ) big “No returns” signs in pet stores.

  27. But this is the whole point. To the extent you need to protect animals from mistreatment, you don’t make a criminal out of someone over THIS! Yes, you make criminals out of people over deliberately mistreating animals, or over neglect on a large and obviously conscious scale. Yes, you might want to regulate things so animals are not abused. Laws/regulations protecting animals from neglect are not bad things. THIS was a bad thing!

  28. I am finding it hard to complain about this. I could say “We used to buy goldfish and guppies (10 cents apiece), it was one of the great things about childhood,” but then I’d have to add that at least some of them had an abbreviated life because we were not knowledgeable enough. Things were different in those days with regard to people’s attitudes about animals. Mine included. I think I’d rather have my kids involve me in the decision to buy a pet. Partly because I don’t want us to support establishments that profit off of inhumane / improper treatment of animals.

    I think forcing the pet stores to take the animals back and refund the money would have the same effect as banning the sales in the first place. Because the store owners would simply refuse to sell an animal to a child knowing they might have to take it back, possibly in un-resaleable condition.

    Yesterday I was in a pet store (my kids like to look at the puppies) and noticed a sign: you need a driver’s license to hold a puppy or kitten.

  29. I have to agree with Elfir on this. It’s more about the safety of the animals than the safety of children. Too many unwanted pets get dumped and mistreated – sadly it’s often by adults who are too stupid and irresponsible to care for them properly. I’m ‘Mom’ to three rescue pets and in our house the decision to take on an animal to care for has always been a parental one.

  30. Ah…I remember when, as a kid, I used to go to the public elementary school “fun fair,” and play that game where you toss a ring over something, and if you won, you got to bring a gold fish home in a plastic sandwhich bag, which you carried while riding home from the fair on your bike…

  31. “I think I’d rather have my kids involve me in the decision to buy a pet.”

    Me too. But, really, do I need the GOVERNMENT to make that happen?

  32. “Learning Disability”, in the UK, means about the same as “Intellectual Disability” means in the US (or, previously, “Mental Retardation”). So, yeah- I would be a little bit upset if someone sold my intellectually disabled daughter a pet. (They use another term for what we call “Specific Learning Disability”- I think “Learning Difference”)

    In any event, having a bird with an untreated broken leg in your store should prompt an investigation (as should having food animals in similar conditions). I think it is very legitimate.

  33. Ah…I remember when, as a kid, I used to go to the public elementary school “fun fair,” and play that game where you toss a ring over something, and if you won, you got to bring a gold fish home in a plastic sandwhich bag, which you carried while riding home from the fair on your bike…

    And then when you got home you put the goldfish in a barren bowl, with no stimulation (kinda like if we locked you in a closet with nothing to do, a sure way to make neurotic and depressed animals) and didn’t keep it adequately cleaned and fed and let it die after living a tiny fraction of its natural lifespan, but considered that just and normal because nobody cared enough to learn better.

    Me too. But, really, do I need the GOVERNMENT to make that happen?

    What do you think the government is FOR?

  34. The place I adopted my 2 dogs, and my sister got her 2 dogs they require all adult members of the household to sign off on adopting pets. They have had two many people return pets because the husband of wife wasn’t happy.

  35. Normally, I agree with most everything you say, but in this case, I side with the “bad guys.” Kids can do more than we give them credit for, and I think they should be allowed to take care of themselves. But in this case, I think it’s best to exercise caution, just because taking care of yourself is often easier than taking care of another living thing. Hell, my roommate and I are both smart, capable 22-year-olds, and we’ve had six fish die on us in the past eight months (though the five we have currently are doing well). I mean, we’re adults and we couldn’t keep our fish alive at first, so I’d just be uncomfortable with letting a kid try it without supervision.

    No, I don’t have kids, but hypothetically, I am willing to let my future kids fall down and scrape their knees because scrapes heal, and they teach important life lessons. Goldfish don’t come back to life after you’ve learned your lesson. No, goldfish are not the highest forms of life, maybe they don’t matter all that much, but they are sentient creatures that deserve a least a little bit of concern.

    Remember the whole fiasco when Finding Nemo (great free-range movie!) came out? Well-meaning kids were flushing their pet fish down the toilet because “all drains lead to the ocean!” I feel like the least we could do is make sure that the people who are buying pets are old enough not to go and flush their pets down the toilet because of a Pixar movie. That’s all I’m saying.

  36. Even so, this should be a licensing issue, not a criminal one. The idea of her having to wear electronic monitoring for selling a fish to the wrong person is just — wrong.

  37. Excuse me — for selling a fish to the wrong person and for not properly caring for the animals in her store. If there really is an established pattern of inappropriate treatment, she ought to lose her ability to handle animals commercially. She should not be treated like a criminal.

  38. This is what you get when you have an out of control “nanny state”. I read this before but I didn’t see that it was a sting! I guess there has to be some rules when it comes to larger animals, but a goldfish? Maybe I’m being reckless, but it seemed childhood was much easier and less complicated when I was a kid. It seems everyone feels they must make more and more rules and laws to continue to perfect our crazy little world.

  39. Good info ! Thanks !

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