Bluewater shopping centre condemned by RSPCA after Kimberly Unger's raccoon rides a bicycle in 'circus stunt' at Pet Expo event
Melanie the raccoon riding at bike at Bluewater
The RSPCA has condemned a "circus-style" stunt of a raccoon riding a bicycle at an event at Bluewater that has sparked outrage.
The Greenhithe shopping centre hosted the three-day Pet Expo, where animal lovers could learn how best to care for their pets and discover new breeds, from Friday.
Photos were published on Bluewater's Facebook page yesterday morning - including one of a raccoon riding a bicycle, which was shared 600 times and had nearly 400 comments within a couple of hours.
American animal trainer Kimberly Unger brought Melanie the raccoon to the shopping centre over the weekend and the pair performed tricks in front of hundreds of people.
But seeing the animal on the back of a bicycle with stabilisers was unacceptable for many people - who claimed the raccoon was being "abused" and "degraded".
Some went as far as to say that Bluewater ought to be boycotted completely for hosting the event.
People also objected to the description of the Pet Expo photo album on Bluewater's Facebook page, which read: "If you're also considering a pet for Christmas, experts including retailers, breeders and animal charities will be on hand this weekend to give you advice on responsible ownership and animal welfare."
One of many hundreds of commenters, Jaqi Bunn, said: "If you are considering a pet for Christmas? What an irresponsible, mindless thing to say. Who on earth is organising this event? They should be sacked."
Now the RSPCA has criticised the event for "portraying wild animals in such a demeaning light".
Video: Melanie the raccoon rides a bike at a previous event
Head of communications David Cowdrey said: "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."
"Using wild animals in crude circus-style acts under the guise of 'responsible ownership' is entirely misjudged..." - David Cowdrey, RSPCA
Bluewater today said it would not be hosting the Pet Expo again and removed pictures of the Pet Expo from its Facebook page.
A statement said: "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."
According to Pet Expo, the theme of the event was "responsible pet ownership and animal welfare".
A spokesman said: "We have a vet at the show at all times who checks many of the animals coming into the show as well as an animal welfare officer.
"Although we have a large selection of many different types of animals at the show, they are not available to buy.
"Depending on what sort of pet you are looking to get, we do have lots of breeders, rescue centres and vets who can point you in the right direction, and provide information designed to help you make an informed choice when buying a pet, and explain what is involved in their care."
Is it cruel for a raccoon to be trained to ride a bike?
Hundreds of animal charities and vets - including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, the Dogs Trust, Guide Dogs and the RSPB - exhibited at the event.
Kimberly and Melanie have also appeared before judges on Britain's Got Talent, where they performed various tricks.
Video: Melanie the raccoon performs on Britain's Got Talent in 2011
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