Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 3, 2013

Exotic animals — Regulation necessary for safety

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Pets are part of most households in the Mountain State and the neighboring Commonwealth. Dogs and cats are members of many families, and animals such as parakeets, goldfish and hamsters are found in homes as well. Many animals make wonderful pets. Unfortunately, other creatures are not so well suited. Their size, strength, or a trait such as being venomous makes them dangerous to own. Due to incidents in other states, West Virginia and Virginia are considering laws that would regulate the ownership of exotic animals.

In West Virginia, House Bill 2209 would limit the sale, trading and breeding of “potentially dangerous wild animals” such as apes, cougars, tigers, lions, elephants, alligators, crocodiles and venomous snakes like rattlesnakes and cobras. Across the border in Virginia, Gov. Bob McDonnell has received recommendations that would regulate the sale and ownership of potentially dangerous exotic animals.

These animals are found in zoos across the country where they live in secure enclosures and receive care from professionals who are trained to handle them. They can be kept in captivity, but they do not lose their wild nature. People who lack the necessary skills and experience to keep such animals will quickly find themselves, their loved ones and their neighbors in trouble.

One frequent mistake such pet owners make is falling in love with the idea of owning a huge snake, a lion or a big monitor lizard without doing the necessary research first. They buy the animal — usually when it’s a juvenile — without realizing the responsibility they will be accepting as it grows larger and stronger. That cute lion cub will grow into a big, dangerous cat that eats hundreds of pounds of meat at a time. That boa constrictor will become big enough to endanger children and adults, too. The monitor lizard will be capable of inflicting vicious bites. Those small, manageable babies will grow into strong, temperamental and very wild animals. They will retain their wild instincts, and those instincts will not fit well into a human household.

There are people in both Virginias who keep exotic animals, but they do it in a responsible manner. They house their animals in secure enclosures, do what is necessary to keep the animals healthy, and take proper safety precautions. The laws and recommendations being considered in both states would not eliminate exotic animal ownership; instead, they would safeguard the animals, their owners and the public.

The bills and recommendations under consideration are worth considering. Exotic animals may not be a problem now in southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, but there is always the possibility that ambitious pet owners will acquire them. Searches on the Internet often yield stores where creatures such as tigers or dangerously venomous snakes are for sale. The temptation is out there. People who consider buying an exotic animal should have to consider state regulations before they make a decision they well regret later.