For the past five years, the Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Department has ended its public swimming pool season with a "Goldfish Grab," during which the baby pool at Reed Road Water Park is converted into a fishing hole of sorts for young children.
For $5 each -- or $6 for people who don't live in UA -- children ages 1-9 can visit the pool at 2000 Hastings Lane from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 9 for the sixth annual Goldfish Grab. They are required to bring a net and a container "to transport your fresh catch" and are given the chance to scoop up and keep up to two live goldfish that have been released into the baby pool.
"The fish are real and become household pets for the participating families," said Debbie McLaughlin, Upper Arlington Parks and Rec director. "Activities like this are held by parks and recreation departments across the country and are very popular with families that have young children."
Others, however, consider the Goldfish Grab uncompassionate or barbaric.
Upper Arlington resident Sheila Fagan, an admitted animal lover and proponent of animal rights, sees it as an antiquated form of entertainment not too dissimilar from once-popular college hijinks where young men swallowed goldfish to impress fraternity brothers or coeds.
Fagan and others recently commented on the program on a Facebook page (Upper Arlington Ohio Discussion Forum) about the appropriateness of the Goldfish Grab, with several calling it terrible, wrong and outdated.
Others, however, said they had participated in the Goldfish Grab in the past with their children and kept the fish for several years, noting the pool staff does provide care instructions.
"My concern is for animal welfare," Fagan said. "It just seems like a bad thing to be showing kids that it's OK to be frightening goldfish as kids jump in the pool after them.
"I know -- goldfish. A lot of people think they're disposable, but I don't think that way at all. They deserve the same dignity and respect as all other animals."
Fagan said she also believes it's potentially dangerous for small children to bring glass containers to the Reed Road Water Park for transporting the goldfish, since they can be dropped and shatter, leaving broken glass where people are walking.
She said if the city insists on hosting the Goldfish Grab, organizers should emphasize that goldfish must be kept in filtered aquariums and provide information about ongoing pet care.
"A lot of people think goldfish can just live in a glass bowl," she said. "They can't."
Another opponent of the Goldfish Grab is Upper Arlington City Councilwoman Carolyn Casper.
A self-described "all-living-things-lover," Casper echoed Fagan's concerns about the treatment and long-term care of the fish.
"I think it's a cruel thing to do," Casper said. "I don't think you make puppies or kittens or fish or baby alligators prizes.
"I would imagine most of these goldfish meet a very unpleasant demise, like being flushed down the toilet, and these little fish are probably terrified" during the event.
Roughly 100-125 goldfish are released into the pool for the Goldfish Grab, city officials said.
According to information from the city, the pool is dechlorinated a week before the event to eliminate danger to the fish from the chemical.
Additionally, children enter the pool in staggered groups, overseen by parks and recreation department staff members, thereby reducing the risks of fish being trampled.
Mac Kinney, a recreation program assistant for the Upper Arlington Parks and Recreation Department, has organized the Goldfish Grab since its inception six years ago. He said this is the first time it has faced backlash.
"There's never been any controversy or discussion about it," Kinney said. "It's always been a good, fun program for families and their kids."
The city typically spends less than $20 for the goldfish and the event isn't designed as a revenue-generator, he said. Up to 60 children are able to participate each year, but the city pays staff, including Kinney and a pool lifeguard, for their time at the event.
McLaughlin said the Goldfish Grab is designed to offer young children a different form of recreation at a city pool, and there are educational elements.
She said families and children are told about the proper care of pet fish, and the event is something of an introduction to fishing -- minus the line and hook.
"It's a very, very popular event and an opportunity for children to walk away with a goldfish that they can have the experience of caring for," McLaughlin said. "It also does allow children the experience of catching a fish."
Kinney called the Goldfish Grab "very humane and very fun."
Typically, he said, there aren't any fish that go uncaught. If that occurs, he said, they're usually divvied between the last remaining participants or given to a good home.
He noted that after one year's event, three leftover goldfish were placed in a filtered aquarium in the city's Human Resources Office, where they remained, alive and swimming.
"It's been a great program for five years," he said. "I have some repeat parents who've come back with their kids over the years."
McLaughlin said more than 30 children are registered for the 2018 Goldfish Grab, which will proceed as scheduled. However, she acknowledged city officials have heard the complaints and will assess the value of the event as they plan future programs.
"We're hearing them and we want to listen to the concerns and evaluate them," she said.
Fagan stressed she isn't opposed to children or is anti-fun. She realizes some might think she could focus her animal-rights activism on larger events or issues.
Still, she said she felt compelled to speak out against the Goldfish Grab, and hopes the city will reconsider the event in the future.
"Sometimes, tackling things at a small level leads to big changes," Fagan said. "That's how I view my role of taking care of animals."