The Bluewater Shopping Centre in Dartford is under fire today by animal lovers after a picture of Melanie the raccoon being forced to ride a bike started circulating the web.

The raccoon act was part of a 3-day Pet Expo held at Bluewater, where the theme was “responsible pet ownership and animal welfare”.

Melanie is owned by trainer Kimberly Unger, who brought her to the expo to perform.

The RSPCA said in a statement: “The RSPCA is shocked to learn that a raccoon was made to wear a bow tie and ride a bicycle at Bluewater Shopping Centre this weekend, and fears it could encourage others to host a similarly irresponsible show in the lead up to Christmas.

Open letter to Bluewater shopping center from the RSPCA: “The event occurred as part of a ‘Pet Expo’ which aimed to promote responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, but the animal welfare organisation strongly disagrees that this aim has been achieved by an animal performing such a circus-style stunt.”

RSPCA Head of Communications David Cowdrey said: “If ‘responsible pet ownership and animal welfare’ as it states on the Bluewater Facebook page was truly the theme of the ‘Pet Expo’ this weekend, we are left wondering how the deeply saddening spectacle of a raccoon in a bow tie riding a bike promotes this message?

“Using wild animals in crude circus-style acts under the guise of ‘responsible ownership’ is entirely misjudged.

“We were however heartened to see so many members of the public equally shocked that Bluewater would find such a show appropriate. What kind of message does portraying wild animals in such a demeaning light send to young people? That animals are here for our amusement. It entirely contradicts the idea of ‘responsible ownership’ and consideration for the interests of animals.

“The RSPCA and other animal welfare charities work tirelessly to promote responsible pet ownership and help educate people to prevent them falling into common traps such as impulse buying a puppy from an unscrupulous source or buying an exotic animal which have specialist needs and so often make unsuitable pets.

“However, when the message doesn’t get through it’s the job of the RSPCA to clear up the mess created by a throw-away society, which all too often sees animals as disposable. With animal abandonments soaring and thousands of discarded exotic pets finding themselves in RSPCA care each year, exhibitions like this are certainly not helping with ‘responsible ownership’. We would be happy to come and discuss some of these issues with you and help you shape an exhibition which genuinely does promote responsible ownership.”

The Bluewater stated on their Facebook Page: “Bluewater is aware that some of the content within the Pet Expo show staged over the weekend caused concern.

“We take the concerns raised by the public very seriously, they will help to inform the development of Glow’s calendar of future events and the associated content has been removed. In the meantime, we would like to apologise for any concerns the show has raised, and confirm that there are no plans to run Pet Expo again.”

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