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Oklahoma mother pushes to keep pressure on legislation banning pets as prizes, spurred by daughter’s concern over carnival game awards

WARR ACRES, Okla. - The mother of girl, whose concern over animals awarded as carnival prizes spurred the authoring of legislation banning the practice, is hoping to keep the pressure on legislators as it appears the bill has stalled for a second year in committee.

It was in 2017 when Chelsea Kennedy's daughter, Cailey, was at a metro fair over the Fourth of July weekend when she saw fish and other animals, like lizards, being given away as prizes for carnival games. Concerned, Cailey proceeded to win a goldfish, named it Ripples and took it home - only to have Ripples die hours later.

"We're just trying to get some pressure toward it so that the legislature could understand that this isn’t a little girl’s dream," Kennedy said.

“He wasn’t moving. So, I quickly, I start freaking out and crying,” Cailey told News 4 in September 2017, saying Ripples and the other fish were kept in cloudy water and she had seen animals kept in questionable conditions at other fairs. "I find it cruel that animals are being treated this way."

Concerned, Cailey turned to lobbying her legislators.

Last year, State Representatives Tammy West, R-Bethany, and Mickey Dollens, D-Oklahoma City, authored legislation to keep animals from being doled out as prizes. Violators would face a criminal misdemeanor and a $250 fine.

The bill, HB 2080, doesn't impact agriculture, educational or vocational programs, or pet stores that might give away or sell an animal but targets those using pets as prizes for games or door prizes for businesses.

Time ran out during the last legislative session for the bill to be heard. But, Dollens took up the page-and-a-half legislation this go-around.

"This would exclude 4-H events and different things like that or even pet stores who have a contest to encourage people to buy pets and with the proper habitat and food that goes along with that," Dollens said. "But, most people don’t go to the fair or carnival expecting to bring home a living entity. And, so, this is what we’re addressing."

More than two dozen states across the country have similar legislation outlawing the use of animals as rewards or prizes, but those vary. Dollens said, if other states have addressed the problem, there is no reason for this simple legislative fix to make its way through.

"Kids can play games, or adults can play games and win a stuffed animal or something like that. But, leave the fish out of it, the live beings out of carnival games," he said.

However, Dollens said the bill's prospects are uncertain as it appears to have stalled in committee for a second year.

Dollens said Judiciary Committee Chairman, Rep. Chris Kannady, R-Oklahoma City, told him that there are too many bills to be heard this session. News 4's messages to Kannady went unreturned Monday and he was not in his capitol office when News 4 stopped by.

News 4 did speak to committee vice-chair Rep. Danny Sterling, R-Tecumseh, who said he was unaware of the legislation but that he would look into it.

"We just want to prevent animals from being dumped on the side of the road. It's nothing to impact finding homes for pets who don’t have them, or children are raising them as an educational experience," said Chelsea Kennedy, speaking in her daughter's place as she was under the weather. "Yes, there are bigger issues in the state. We've got an educational crisis, we’ve got a lot going on however we can't ignore the little things in lieu of the big. And, this bill, as I've said, it should face minimal debate. It wouldn’t take long, and it would save a lot of lives."

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