ASP petting zoo draw criticism from animal rights supporters

Petting Zoo Dundas
Earth Day Texas 2016, at Fair Park in Dallas, Texas.

ASProductions’ annual Petting Zoo Dundas is coming up this Wednesday, May 23. The event draws large crowds of students to the Communications Lawn each year.

However, the event page on Facebook has sparked discussions between students and AS Productions on the ethics behind the petting zoo.

Rosa Rice-Pelepko, a senior in environmental and social justice, expressed her disappointment with ASP’s “exploitation of animals”, and asked ASP to reconsider hosting the event. The comment drew many reactions, with the majority of the 30+ students that interacted with the post agreeing that ASP shouldn’t hold the event.

“I’m opposed to petting zoos inherently, and I’m also opposed to the AS specifically supporting petting zoos as an event,” Pelepko said. “I’m a vegan, and I believe in animal liberation, which to me that means that I don’t think nonhuman animals exist for human use whether that be food, clothing or entertainment. I think that nonhuman animals have a right to live their own lives, free of that exploitation by humans, and I think a petting zoo is an example [of that].”

Max Boock, a sophomore, said she’s also opposed to the petting zoo, particularly because there are other options for interacting with animals.

“If you went to an animal sanctuary, those animals have the freedom to come up to you and say hi, and then also leave if they feel uncomfortable or don’t want to interact with you,” Boock said. “Animals are just like humans– and humans are animals–  where some are more sociable than others. Some are more introverted. Some hate being touched. Some really love being touched…  And this petting zoo just doesn’t allow for that freedom for the animals.”

Not everyone criticized the petting zoo.

Eric Wilson, a senior, believes the petting zoo is a great opportunity for students to interact with animals “outside their dinner plate.” He said that, at his small town’s county fair, animals sold off for slaughter were well-fed, healthy and happy.

“When I meet people who would find it worthwhile to protest a Petting Zoo Dundas, I find that they haven’t put in a day’s labor,” Wilson said. “They grew up in cities, have families that make above the national average income and can afford to question whether or not the animal is happy. The animal is an animal.”
ASP responded to a message to their Facebook page saying that, while they took the concerns into consideration, they will still hold the event. They said the petting zoo will feature information on organizations such as the Pigs Peace Sanctuary, as well as how to donate to them. They also defended Animal Encounters, which provides animals for the petting zoo.

“We care deeply about all our animals and consider them to be family members and co-workers,” a statement from Animal Encounters, provided by ASP, stated. “They are also working animals. Their job of helping to educate the public can sometimes be stressful as any job a human would have. Our carefully crafted protocols help mitigate this stress to provide a rewarding working environment for our animals and a memorable experience for our guests.”

Also according to their statement, Animal Encounters are members of the Humane Educators Association of America, and are licensed with both the USDA and the Animal Protection and Health Inspection Service.

However, Pelepko was disappointed not only in ASP’s decision to hold the event, but in their lack of communication as well.

“They didn’t say how that decision was made, and they didn’t say who was involved in that decision making process,” Pelepko said. “And they also didn’t say if they were going to do this in the future, which part of my original comment had been: this is a reoccurring event, you continually do this year to year to year.”

ASP held an open forum on Friday in the VU to address student concerns. The online version of this story will be updated with details from the forum. ASP didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.