Honestly, it's not that we go out of our way to razz San Francisco as the home of nutty ideas. It's just that lately, the city has been making it hard to do otherwise, giving unexpectedly serious consideration to a series of odd proposals: The November ballot measure that would ban male circumcision of children, which isn't expected to pass. The Happy Meal ban, which did pass. And now, the goldfish ban.
Actually, it's not just a goldfish ban. The measure being pushed by San Francisco's Animal Control and Welfare Commission would ban all sales of all pets: kittens, snakes, hamsters, goldfish. Rats!
The ban wouldn't affect animals sold for food, so city residents could still buy a live crab to boil in a pot of water for dinner, just not to keep in an aquarium. Live tilapia to grill, no problem, but a splendidly colored Siamese fighting fish for a fishbowl?
This is a foolish proposal, and the Board of Supervisors should ignore it. Like the ban on free toys with low-nutrition children's meals, the so-called goldfish ban originates from good intentions. It is intended as a blow against inhumane pet operations such as puppy mills. Also, the hope is that people seeking pets would turn instead to rescue societies and animal shelters.
Society rightly rejects — and passes laws against — the inhumane treatment of animals, though sometimes it has a muddled perception of what that means (as in the case of the crab). But San Francisco should reduce animal cruelty by getting rid of the cruelty, not the animals. The city lacks a mandatory spay-neuter law for most dogs and cats, like the one in Los Angeles; its law covers only pit bulls. A well-enforced ordinance of that sort would help keep shelters and rescue societies from being overwhelmed by unwanted animals. San Francisco also could require stores to acquire their animals from humane suppliers, and mandate a short waiting period before customers are allowed to purchase a pet, to avoid impulse buys.
Animals will be treated better when they are owned by responsible people who are ready to keep a pet for its lifetime. That means allowing people to buy the pet they want, not the one the city thinks they should have. Of course, prospective pet owners should check the shelters and rescue groups first; they would be surprised by the variety of loving, attractive animals. Ultimately, though, it's their choice. Besides, should the ban pass, people need only go to a neighboring town to find just the right waggly-tailed, cuddly guppy.