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Sailfest won't allow sugar glider vendors back next year

New London — The application for Sailfest vendors will be amended to prohibit the sales of live animals and prevent the return of the company that sold sugar gliders at this year’s festival July 11 and 12.

Barbara Neff, founder of Neff Productions and lead organizer of the annual street fair, said Tuesday that the committee that oversees Sailfest will have its first meeting since the event next Tuesday.

At that meeting, she said, she will explain her decision to add language to the vendor application prohibiting live animals.

PocketPets, the Cape Coral, Fla.-based company that breeds and sells the small marsupials — also called sugar bears — displayed the animals at a booth on State Street during the fair.

Fairgoers were allowed to pet the animals and watch them leap into the salesmen’s pockets as they described their attributes as pets.

The pets were sold directly to customers at the fair, said Adam Wayne, northern regional director for PocketPets, and others interested in purchasing them were given information about another company that takes orders online and arranges for customers to pick them up at an airport in “the closest major city that accepts animals.”

“It’s a shame,” Wayne said of Neff’s decision. “We had a good time at Sailfest, and we were well received. Our company was founded to sell these animals ethically, and we just try to find good homes for them.”

Neff, however, said PocketPets’ vendor application did not make clear the type of product the company would be selling.

“We made a huge mistake,” Neff said. “We never knew that they were going to bring live animals. Nowhere in their application did they say that’s what they were selling. We thought PocketPets were stuffed toys.”

After the festival, The Day published an article about the sale of sugar gliders and national efforts by the nonprofit group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to stop their sale.

Because of PETA's efforts, several companies that own and manage shopping malls have banned PocketPets from selling sugar gliders at mall kiosks.

According to a PETA spokeswoman, the PocketPets company has turned to the fair circuit to sell the marsupials — which are nocturnal animals that live in large colonies in Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia — after they were banned from malls.

While the sale of sugar gliders is legal in Connecticut, PETA contends the animals are bred in inhumane conditions and do not make good pets.

Wayne, however, said the company has been around for 20 years and provides a lifetime warranty, customer support and other services.

“We don’t sell to just anybody,” he said. The company came to Sailfest because of previous sales to customers in Connecticut who are interested in buying more animals or have friends who are interested, he said.

“The demand outweighs our supply,” he said.

Neff said that after the article in The Day ran, she receive two or three phone calls and about a dozen emails from people urging her not to let PocketPets return to Sailfest.

In addition, Rosamund Downing of Stonington, the Connecticut district leader of the Humane Society of the United States, wrote a letter to the editor of The Day stating that “sugar gliders are not good pets; in fact they are exotic animals that can put families at risk” and are bred in cruel conditions “analogous to puppy mills.”

Neff said she agrees with all those who contacted her.

On Monday, Gemma Vaughan, cruelty caseworker for PETA, sent an email message to supporters and others urging them to contact Neff and the Sailfest committee and request they not to let sugar gliders be sold at the festival next year.

Neff said the she spoke to Vaughan Tuesday afternoon and let her know that action would be taken at next week’s meeting.

In response, Vaughan sent an email alert to supporters and others Tuesday evening thanking the Sailfest organizers for their “compassionate decision to ban the sale of live animals, including tiny marsupials known as sugar gliders from future events.”

“I’m a huge animal lover,” Neff said. “We will never do that again. I told the company (PocketPets) we won’t take them again.”

j.benson@theday.com

Twitter: @BensonJudy

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