News Local

Debate over town's exotic reptile bylaw

By Cyndi Mills, Daily Observer

CYNDI MILLS cyndi.mills@sunmedia.ca
At the recent Petawawa council committee meeting, the council chamber was packed with people who showed up to support Luke Halstead as he approached council to change the town's exotic pet bylaw.

CYNDI MILLS cyndi.mills@sunmedia.ca At the recent Petawawa council committee meeting, the council chamber was packed with people who showed up to support Luke Halstead as he approached council to change the town's exotic pet bylaw.

PETAWAWA?- Exotic pet advocate Luke Halstead has approached Petawawa council to change the town's current exotic animal bylaw.

With council chambers full of supporters, Mr. Halstead presented his case to council in committee to create a bylaw that allows exotic animals.

The manager of reptiles and dangerous exotics at Waddles and Wags, a private zoo in Eganville and the vice-president of Canada's only exotic animal rescue charity, Little Big Rescue, a federally registered charity, Mr. Halstead would like the town to allow certain exotic pets in the municipality.

Councillor Theresa Sabourin asked what the list would look like if the town did allow exotic animals and Mr. Halstead informed her it was more of a criteria.

"This criteria is no venomous lizards and lizards that are under two metres, including tail," explained Mr. Halstead. "And snakes that reach an adult length of under three metres long, so automatically you have excluded the giant constrictors."

Crocodilians would also be banned and he recommended council not lift the ban on turtles because if released into the wild they would crowd out the endangered spotted turtle, wood turtle and other turtles indigenous to the area.

"When people hear the word exotic animal, venomous snakes and crocodiles might come to mind, but the fact of the matter is that exotic animals in the pet trade are not dangerous, Hollywood, stereo typical, exotic animals. They are common pets and according to the American Veterinarian Medical Association it is the fastest growing sector of the pet industry," Mr. Halstead said.

Citing that having an outright ban on exotic pets keeps owners underground, and criminalizes innocent people, he said if council were to have a legal avenue for people to own exotic pets then the town would know where the pets were.

"If we allow more freedoms then we could focus on the people that are actually dangerous and keeping things that shouldn't be kept in the community," said Mr. Halstead.

Deputy Mayor Tom Mohns questioned how the town would enforce the bylaw. Mr. Halstead responded that the current bylaw isn't being enforced as the town has a few hundred people who already own an exotic pet.

If a bylaw were to be passed, Mr. Halstead would like to see a provision made to include an exotic animal rescue agency. He recognized the great work the Renfrew County Ontario Society of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals does but added they are not prepared to deal with the rescue of any kind of exotic animals.

"I believe some provisions need to be made for that in the law," Mr. Halstead told council.

Expressing his concerns with the current laws, he pointed out the current bylaw holds harmless animals in the same category as dangerous ones.

"The way the law is here in Petawawa is having a corn snake or gecko, which are extremely common pet store pets, are considered just as illegal as owning a king cobra or a Nile crocodile," said Mr. Halstead. "There is a bit of a disconnect there."

"I have found and you will find that the risks of keeping common household pets far outweigh the risks of keeping most common exotic animals," explained Mr. Halstead listing off numerous diseases cats, dogs and horses can carry like rabies, scabies, anthrax, tuberculosis, Q fever, ascarid worms, ringworm. equine encephalomyelitis, burcellosis, to name a few.

As for reptiles, the World Health Organization does not include reptiles in its list of diseases transferred from pets to humans. Mr. Halstead noted, only four out of 200 human zoonotic diseases (diseases transferred from animal to person) are listed in the Merck vet manual are linked to reptiles. Salmonella being one of them.

Turning to canine stats, he said currently dog attacks account for one to two deaths per year in Canada, and added that in British Columbia 390 people are injured by horses every year. He questioned if dogs are safe enough to have in the community why reptiles are banned?

He also presented council with a petition with over 300 names of residents who would like the bylaw changed.

Currently the municipality has a bylaw that prohibits the ownership of exotic animals.

Cyndi Mills is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist.