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Can cuddability win the war?

Illustration by Tim Martin
Meet Buckleberry Hound. Ain't he cute?
Illustration by Tim Martin
By Mike Handley

-- Move over, Bambi, Fred the flounder is making a splash!

The battle for the hearts and minds of children has taken a new twist as the nation's most vocal and controversial anti- hunting and fishing group is trying to convince kiddies that eating fish sticks is akin to abetting torture and murder.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is hoping its latest, kinder and gentler campaign -- to rename fish "sea kittens" -- will accomplish what Walt Disney and DreamWorks Animation have failed to do.

While "Bambi" might have influenced how non-hunters viewed deer and hunters when it was released during World War II, cartoon fish haven't driven too many people away from seafood platters.

Sebastian the crab and "Flounder," Ariel's companions in 1989's "The Little Mermaid," probably had little effect on the seafood market. Ditto for 2003's "Finding Nemo" and the following year's star-studded "Shark Tale."

Yet PETA is convinced its new cat-fish caper will resonate with youngsters, who can even create their own purring Pisces with a mohawk by visiting the organization's interactive website ( "http://www.peta.org/sea_kittens").

"PETA thought that by renaming fish sea kittens, compassionate people who would never dream of hurting a dog or a cat might extend that sympathy to fish, or sea kittens," PETA campaign coordinator Ashley Byrne told National Public Radio.

"Fish not only have the same ability to feel pain as a dog or cat, but they also communicate with one another. They have complex social interactions; they form bonds; they express affection by gently rubbing against one another," Byrne added.

PETA's website has a section devoted to sea kittens, which includes a petition to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking them to cease promotions of fishing.

There are "bedtime stories" devoted to Tara the Tuna, Tony the Trout and Fred the Flounder. But the very short tales probably aren't going to be adapted for the silver screen.

This isn't PETA's first anti-fishing campaign geared toward kids. The other involves someone in a fish suit distributing comic books to children at bass tournaments, in front of tackle shops and at favorite fishing holes.

The colorful cover proclaims: "Your Daddy Kills Animals!" It shows a man wearing a lure-encrusted fishing cap and eviscerating a fish. The blood-red teaser at the bottom reads: "Ask your daddy why he's hooked on killing!" (see for yourself at "http://www.fishinghurts.com/feat-newcomic.asp

Given that all cows are sacred with PETA, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to envision the sea kittens campaign extended to other species within the food chain. And because white-tailed deer are the most hunted animal in North America, they might well be next to be anthropomorphized (given human, perhaps petlike characteristics).

Imagine the possibilities...
1. Buck Pups
2. Bambi Poodles
3. Cabbage Patch Deer
4. Buckleberry Hound
5. Dora the Doe

Don't laugh too hard, Mr. and Mrs. Deer Hunter. After all, PETA has even created its own interactive game -- patterned after Super Mario -- in which baby chicks can save "the princess," Pamela Anderson, from the clutches of the evil chicken-murdering Colonel Sanders.

The only entrees PETA - they of the Jesus-was-a-vegetarian fame - would like to see next to the mashed potatoes are those of us who prefer not to peel our red and white meats off a Styrofoam or plastic tray.

By Mike Handley
Editor, Rack magazine

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