Here is a fantastic interview about what is going on in Ohio (and potentially to your state soon). This awful piece of legislation takes effect today, and has caused many people to move or give up their animals before the state confiscates them and destroys them.
Please read it, then come back here:
As owners of exotic animals, we constantly face a deluge of ignorant comments on forums and in our daily lives. I personally find it very difficult to understand how the "fear of the unknown" and rampant ignorance manifests itself into an arrogant "you shouldn't own that" or "ban that." With a mere two minutes of soaking up media hysteria, people who have no experience are now somehow experts.
We hear the same drivel time and time again.
"Exotic owners are irresponsible"
Since it's not a dog or a cat, and unfamiliar to most people, it is strange and unusual. But the fact of the matter is that acquiring these animals is simply not cheap. When you're looking at many of them, they are $5,000+ dollar animals, that live a good 20, 30, 40 years. And unless you're Justin Beiber or Mike Tyson, most people don't drop a significant amount of money without researching and understanding the commitment. It is a lifestyle choice, it is a commitment to an animal, it just happens to be an animal that an outsider doesn't know anything about (yet somehow they seem to know everything). But it goes way beyond the money, the love for these animals is something that we all have, and it's in our best interest to provide them with the best care possible. They are more difficult to house, feed, breed than a traditional pet, which requires us to invest more in their care. That's a decision that we have made, and are happy to stick to.
These are not animals that you see at a pet store and think, "oh, how cute, I just HAVE to take you home!" Dog and Cat shelters are full, all the time. If this is about responsibility, there is a far larger problem that needs to be addressed. Overall, exotic owners are far more responsible with their animals than the general populace. We have to be.
"This is about invasive species"
There was a story that hit today about a Michigan woman finding a python in a sofa she picked up off of the curb. Many of the comments in the article were "At least it wasn't bed bugs" and generally, not a lot of people freaking out. But then I thought, "where is the news article 'Aaron sees feral cat'?" Again, with exotics and especially exotic mammals, owners have put significant time and money into them, they are family members, and it's in their own best interest to provide an environment where the animal cannot escape.
But as we all know, feral cats are more destructive to our ecosystem than anything else. They kill an estimated 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds a year, and the mammal death toll from feral cats is 6.9 to 20.7 billion animals a year. Most exotics cannot survive "in the wild" in the United States. It's already illegal to release any animal into the wild, yet this happens all of the time with people and their cats. Where is the sweeping legislation to ban the ownership of cats? It's not there, simply because that would affect too many voters and be an unpopular bill that nobody in their right mind would sponsor if they are up for re-election. Maybe we should push for that, then maybe some people in this country would care about the problem we face as owners.
"This is about public safety"
The Zanesville death toll to humans was exactly one, Terry Thompson. He was a vietnam veteran who was just released from prison, his wife left him, and some believed that he suffered from PTSD. When he released the animals, he then allegedly shot himself. Exotic owner or not, mental illness is something that this country experiences everywhere, from movie theaters to first grade classrooms. Do we want to mitigate risk? Absolutely. But at what point do you give up your liberties to mitigate potential harm? Should we ban bikes, swimming pools, stairs, plastic bags, roller blades, trees, and pillows?
Zanesville was an extreme case, a fringe case, and at the end of the day the day no people were killed or injured. Generally speaking, the only people who are typically injured by ANY exotics are their owners or people working directly with them. Yet legislation is passed based on these fringe cases, and the 99.999999% of owners who never have issue have to suffer the consequences of that. The reality is that in 2013 in the United States, there were more deaths by lightning strikes (23) than innocent bystander death by exotics (0)
"This is about animal welfare"
Again, most people who invest their time and money into these animals give them the best life possible, after all, it's in their best interest. I know several people who own primates, and from what I have personally experienced, the relationships that owners have with their primates is no less than what a dog owner has with their dogs. Those animals are not depressed, maladjusted animals, they are happy, thriving, delightful animals who in most cases don't know what "the wild" is. They're not plucked from the wild, they're captive bred and raised with people, just like a dog or a cat. Ohio's legislation is the end of exotic ownership in this state, new animals cannot be acquired, and propagation licenses are expensive and the criteria to get them nearly (if not) impossible to meet.
There are more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. As man continues to overtake the planet and destroy habitats, the decline in wild animals will continue. As legislation is passed, more captive animals will be euthanized and those populations will decrease. How exactly is this helping animal welfare?
Looking to 2014
As reptile owners, we are going to be facing more legislation as we go on. What was passed in Ohio did not affect most reptile keepers, but it is the tip of the iceberg that is paving the way for more legislation in this state, and a rapid spread to others. Sadly, I think a lot of owners, when they realize their animals are "safe," stop caring about the bigger issue at hand.
It is vital that we pay attention to city ordinance along with state and federal. We also need to be more active and continue to educate the public on these animals. The human-pet bond is something that will go on; animals enrich our lives, we've just chosen animals that most people don't understand. Our job is to get people to understand that this is no different than dog or cat ownership. There are more non-owner/related people killed by dogs than there are by exotics. The statistics are wildly in our favor, yet we continue to get beaten legislatively. The fringe cases ruin it for us, the media ruins it for us, and then we ruin it for us by not being involved to the extent we should be.
When they were formulating the Ohio exotics law, Chris Delange was instrumental in educating the sponsoring office. I was also very active in communicating with them on some of the primate issues. We're nobodies, yet what we did affected the legislation in minor ways. If there were more of us, if we had a bigger presence, maybe we could have made more of an impact, maybe not.
Sitting by and just writing an email isn't enough anymore. We need to continually work with our local reps. I remember watching the vote live when SB310 was passed, and it was then that I realized the people who were actually voting this into legislation has NO clue as to what the issues were, what the impact would be, or how this would affect a lot of law-abiding citizens. They were just blindly voting, thinking, "oh, this sounds like a good idea, and Jack Hanna is a zoo guy so he must be an expert who knows what he's talking about." Draw the analogy to Obamacare -- nobody who voted it through read the entire 11,000 page document. And if anyone did, they are not healthcare professionals, they're politicians, they're not going to really understand it. As I watched vote after vote "yea," I realized that we should have been far more active in educating these politicians on these animals, who we are as people, and what the negative consequences were. And this is something that nobodies like me or you can do, and it costs us nothing. Take a few hours out of your day and go to the reps office and talk to them. Be a positive face. It's their job to at least listen to us.
We are very much at the turning point in this country with respect to the pets we keep. If we are going to win, we need to band together, be ACTIVE in promoting our hobby to the general populace (going to schools an excellent way), be PROACTIVE in talking directly with our local reps, and support organizations like USARK who is our collective voice.
We have to treat this like our animals lives depend on it. Because they do.