Giving away animals as prizes could put them in danger, Humane Society of Louisiana says

Humane Society urges Livingston Parish Fair organizers to stop using live animals as prizes

LIVINGSTON PARISH, La. (WAFB) - It helps to know your way around a farm when you’ve got several mouths to feed, so it’s a good thing for Lauren Ventrella that her 200-pound pig at her farm in Central can basically feed himself.

“He can literally pull a bale of hay down and tear it up," Ventrella said.

Winston is considered a mini pig. They start off small, but they grow fast.

“Until you have one yourself, you really cannot appreciate the full needs of this animal,” Ventrella said.

That’s the reality animal advocates say they’re attempting to get across to organizers with the Livingston Parish Fair. For decades now, the Humane Society of Louisiana (HSL) has been encouraging fair and carnival organizers to stop giving away live pets as prizes.

According to HSL, it has been successful in getting some carnival organizers to stop the practice.

“Earlier this year, the St. John’s Festival de la Prairie stopped giving away animals after being contacted by HSL officials. The Tangipahoa Strawberry Festival changed its policies several years ago after Humane Society representatives spoke to its governing body. And two years ago, the City of Kenner upgraded and amended its animal welfare codes to show its opposition to the practice. The group also introduced a bill at last year’s state capitol, which would have banned the practice statewide. An amended version passed the Senate floor, but failed to pass a House committee.”

A petition on Change.org has been signed by almost 800 people. The goal is to urge the Livingston Parish Fair to stop giving away live animals as prizes. Ventrella is a farmer by night, but by day serves as an attorney for HSL.

“I think that the parents just aren’t fully prepared a lot of times to take on these animals and then the animal ends up discarded or dropped off,” Ventrella said.

While it’s unclear what the fair will give away this year, Ventrella says it’s known for giving away ducks, iguanas, and mini pigs. Any animal, she says, comes with more care requirements than just a pat on the head. Ventrella says they’re a big responsibility and require the means to care for them.

“New pet owners often face unexpected costs when they are given a rabbit, turtle, or iguana as a prize. New owners have to purchase special feed, enclosures, water bottles, heat lamps, and provide adequate space for their newly acquired pet. Many of the new pets will also require annual vaccinations or health exams that is an added expense. These new inconveniences and costs often lead the owners to surrender the pet or simply release them into the wild," said HSL.

“What happens after little Sally or little Susie gets this little 5-pound mini pig and this thing grows up into a 200-pound monstrosity?” Ventrella asked. “A backyard might be fine for a year or two, but you certainly can’t have any landscaping. You can’t have a beautiful nice manicured yard because a pig is going to do what a pig is going to do, which is root, eat, chew, tear up.”

Ventrella says it’s not just the welfare of the animals at stake.

“What happens after the fair? It trickles right down to what morals are we teaching our children, what are we valuing as a community? It’s so much more than just about the animals," she said.

Ventrella suggests giving away stuffed animals as prizes instead. Advocates also say a quick demonstration to kids, teaching them about the importance of giving animals the right resources to survive will go a long way.

WAFB reached out to organizers for the Livingston Parish Fair to get their thoughts on the petition; they responded with "no comment.”

The Livingston Parish Fair will be open to the public beginning Oct. 5.

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