Exotic animals under scrutiny

Published: Jun. 28, 2016 at 6:57 PM PDT
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When you think of a pet owner, you may think of a dog or cat, even a rabbit. But there are local residents who can’t live without their snakes, lizards, or even monkeys. Washoe County Animal Services wants to change the regulation on what it labels “exotic animals.” But owners of such pets say the proposal is confusing, unneeded, and over-broad.

Animal Control Services provided us with a picture of an alligator taken into custody by Animal Control two days ago in Washoe Valley.

Emergency crews stumbled across the animal while responding to a medical call.

It's a perfect illustration of why Animal Control Services wants to license and regulate what it calls "exotic animals."

“It's about the knowledge of knowing it is there. If a first responder needs to come into the home for some reason, if there is an emergency and we have to take care of the animal, in the time of a disaster, we have the capability to notify law enforcement and take care of these animals,” says Bobby Smith, with Washoe County Animal Control.

June 28, 2016 in Washoe County Commission Chambers, Smith updated commissioners about an exotic animal ordinance that's been in the works for about two years.

Smith explained under an antiquated code, animals like Iguanas are lumped in with exotic animals like chimpanzees.

Smith pointed to incidents like what happened in Zanesville, Ohio where a mentally disturbed man owned dozens of wild cats, and let them go just before he committed suicide. All the animals were put down as they were a danger to the community.

Then there is the story of Travis, who mauled a woman in Hartford Connecticut. Travis' owner had to kill the chimp with a butcher knife.

Smith says his agency wants to categorize exotic animals and regulate them in congested areas of the county and out of those congested areas. They will be regulated by their size and weight. They may have to be spayed and neutered and must be approved by a permitting board.

Those who work with these animals, like snakes and lizards, testified the proposed regulations mean they would have to give their pets up.

“I don't think we should split, and pit us one against the other. But I do think the code would be better served by addressing some of these different groups differently. He is saying reptiles don't usually get spayed and neutured. So we will leave them out. Maybe we should discuss reptiles separately from big cats separately, from primates,” says Alexandra Reid with Great Basin Herpetological Society.

The proposed regulations were not approved at the meeting. Rather, the commissioners gave guidance to Animal Control to agency questions concerning insurance to own exotic animals, and fine tune what kind of animals under personal ownership would be impacted.