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Animal-Rights Groups Scream (Crustaceans Are "Individuals," Too), as "Lobster Claw" Games Catch On in Valley Bars

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It appears the claw's on the other foot for area lobsters as the newest rage in crustacean entertainment is hitting area bars harder than the whipping tail of a lobster heading for the boiler.

The Love Maine Lobster Claw, a product of a Maine based company with distributors in Phoenix called "Love Maine Lobster," is popping up in bars around Phoenix; here's how it works: It's nearly identical to crane games found in arcades and carnivals, where players navigate a robotic claw over a sea of stuffed animals, toys and other novelties, with the hopes of retrieving a prize for a first-date or a stuffed animal for a little sister. Well, replace the toys with live Maine lobsters and you have The Love Maine Lobster Claw.

Charbel Haroni, general manager of Boston's Gourmet Pizza in Tempe, one of two Valley bars that feature the machines, says customers love the gadget and that it's helped replace some revenue lost in the turbulent economy.

"If you grab it, I cook it," he says enthusiastically. "Imagine that! A lobster dinner for $2! Can you believe that?"

Because of the success the machine at Boston's, Haroni says, friends who own other area bars -- like Barney's Boathouse and Macayo's Mexican Kitchen, both in Tempe -- have opted to order their own lobster machines.

"This thing makes more money than I do some nights," says Boston's waiter Bill Kirk, alluding to the fact that the crafty critters inside the tank are hard to grab. "We named the big one [lobster] 'Hellboy;' he's a beast."

While everyone tries for "Hellboy," Kirk says he's only seen two people actually fish a lobster out of the tank with the big robotic claw.

"Everybody loves it though," he says. "Someone's always using it, and all their friends crowd around to watch."

With all this fun going on at the lobsters' expense, someone must be pissed. Right?

Of course they are.

Lindsey Wright, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, says the machine is taking a game designed for children and using it to exploit animals.

"Incarcerating lobsters in filthy crowded tanks in noisy bars, before boiling them to death, is as reprehensible as doing it to a dog or cat," she says. "It's a cruel game where the lobsters always lose."

Dr. Elliot Katz, spokesman for the animal rights group "In Defense of Animals," finds the game equally disturbing.

"Lobsters are individuals with their own special needs," Katz says. "It's just demeaning to the lobster -- it's just making fun, and it doesn't send a good message."

Whether or not Katz's claim that lobsters can actually feel embarrassment is true, one thing is certain: Lobsters are delicious, and The Love Maine Lobster Claw is a scream (also similar to a lobster on his way to the boiler).

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