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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?

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