Is, “Mommy — take me to the pet store!” really the response to this image?”
Is, “Mommy — take me to the pet store!” really the response to this image?”

Activists love to capitalize on anything that reflects negatively on people’s interactions with animals – even if it’s a bunch of cartoon creatures that are animals in name only.

The kids movie “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which opened in theaters last month, is proving to be a box-office winner for a whole new generation of children.

Good news, right? Not to animal rights people. John Carmody of Europe’s Animal Rights Action Network, is warning the public not to buy real-life turtles, rats or any other animal depicted in the movie as a result of watching the action-adventure-comedy film.

Carmody told the Limerick Post — yes, the Limerick in Ireland — that that his group is bracing itself for a “huge surge” in people buying animals from pet stores in the weeks ahead.

“Animals such as turtles and rats will be popular targets as a result of this new film,” he explained. “[But] they require a lifelong commitment of care, responsibility and money for the food, vet bills and other needs of these thinking animals. We’d ask people to watch the film, and then take time out to visit an animal sanctuary and give hands-on help to a pitiful animal who has little or nothing in their life.”

Wow, thanks for the downer, John.

Carmody noted that the Ninja Turtles is not the first time a highly anticipated film has caused problems for animals, citing “Finding Nemo” (fish) and “Harry Potter” (owls) as other examples.

Really? Where do you even buy an owl?

Not to be outdone, Britain’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also chimed in, warning of an influx of abandoned turtles in the wake of the movie’s release.

“Terrapins are complicated animals to care for and can also carry bacteria such as salmonella,” the RSPCA’s Nicola White told the BBC. “We strongly urge people to think carefully first before buying an exotic pet.”

I don’t know how “exotic” turtles are, but I do know that the Ninja Turtles have been around for almost 25 years now — originating, according to an urban legend, when their creators deliberately tried to invent the most ridiculous “creature” they could — and while turtles remain a popular pet with the under-tween-age demographic, I don’t remember animal rights groups in this country waging any serious campaigns against the abandoned turtles the first time TMNT debuted on television.

I do remember the pet industry reporting a mild run on Dalmatian dogs when the remake of “101 Dalmatians” came out in 1998. Many of them did eventually end up in shelters because families were ill-prepared for the rigors of managing a highly energetic, tough-to-train breed when they ceased resembling those cute animated puppies.

Lesson learned for those parents, hopefully, and to tell the truth, any family that rushes out to indulge their children on the basis of a Disney movie deserves any subsequent difficulties they encounter, because they’re totally self-inflicted. It’s not the fault of the kids for demanding a puppy, it’s the fault of the parents for caving in.

A chance to preach

But that’s not how the animal rights movement sees it. In a blog post on Newstalk.com in Dublin, one activist lamented his own reaction to the Turtles.

“The trailer for the Michael Bay blockbuster brought me back to a moment in time when I was growing up in the ’90s,” he wrote. “I remember the [Ninja Turtles] cartoon series like it was yesterday, with its four heroes and their master, the anthropomorphic rat Splinter, who showed the turtles the ropes of life and survival in the sewers of New York City.

“My favorite was Michelangelo, the more fun-loving character of the foursome. As I got caught up more and more, I remember my parents bringing me to the pet store to purchase two turtles, one for me and one for my brother. Needless to say, the animals were abandoned once the novelty and fun wore off. I can’t remember how or where these creatures landed shortly after; it certainly wasn’t a local animal shelter.”

Look, maybe people need to develop a little more sensitivity to the issue of buying pets that later get “dumped” somewhere because the kids outgrow their interest in taking care of them. But this isn’t some new phenomenon that requires anyone to adjust to a new reality. Buying baby chicks because it’s Easter or acquiring a puppy because your kid liked a certain movie isn’t really on most modern parents’ To-Do list, is it?

One thing is for sure: You can count on animal activists to try to capitalize on anything that draws media attention.

Even if it’s a non-issue resulting from nonexistent fallout from a venerable movie franchise that doesn’t really depict animals, anyway.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.