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May-27-2009 06:58TweetFollow @OregonNews
Senate Bill Would Remove Oregonians' Right to Own Exotic PetsTim King Salem-News.com
The folks aren't monkeying around on either side of this issue.
(SALEM, Ore.) - Legislation that would end the ownership of certain wild animals in Oregon passed the Senate today. S.B. 391 would be an enhancement to existing Oregon law that requires a permit to possess certain wild animals as pets.
S.B. 391 will prohibit future possession of alligators, monkeys, lions, tigers, bears, alligators, crocodiles and caimans. People who currently have these animals would be able to keep them under the bill, but not breed or replace them.
S.B. 391, introduced by Senators Mark Hass, D-14, and Brian Boquist, D-23, has passed the Senate and now moves to the full House.
The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA and the Oregon Humane Society say they applaud the Oregon House Environment and Water Committee for passing S.B. 391 to "prohibit dangerous wild animals as pets."
But Oregonians who own rare and exotic pets, call the legislation misguided. The Animal Training and Ethics Blog questions the amount of research that took place before the Senate vote.
"Why would responsible lawmakers NOT consult the state’s genuine animal experts? For five years we have been offering, begging, to be allowed to participate in shaping this bill so it might actually accomplish its stated goals."
The move to outlaw animals that have been owned for generations in Oregon is drawing support from activists like Nicole G. Paquette, senior vice president and general counsel for Born Free USA, who said, "The owners of these animals are playing Russian roulette with people's lives."
Paquette suggests that monkey and feline attacks are a hazard, "For the safety of people and animals in Oregon, the legislature must act now to prohibit dangerous wild and exotic animals from being kept in private hands."
Yet by their own statistics and for all the "danger" these groups cite, they only identify two events in Oregon where a person was actually hurt by one of the animals on the list. It seems thousands of exotic animals in captivity actually don't turn out to be the worry these groups project.
Activists for exotic pets on the other side of the issue, say opportunities to educate people about the very animals that would be outlawed, would be lost under S.B. 391. They say people need more information, and less knee-jerk reaction, which is certainly no stranger to Oregon politics.
The bloggers at ATEB said, "With so many pressing issues demanding their attention, busy legislators often spend only a few minutes thinking about the animal bills. HSUS/PETA assails them constantly with countless newspaper and television ads, mailings, private member visits, and pressure from paid lobbyists."
They say Senator Mark Hass, the bill’s sponsor, claimed to have "worked with" animal breeders and owners to address concerns since last session, yet they have seen hide nor hair of this legislator.
"In fact, no one in our small and close-knit community (who virtually all oppose this ill-conceived and misguided bill) was ever contacted by the senator or his staff or representatives. And none of the crucial changes we believe would improve this bill were added."
People behind the legislation like Scott Beckstead, senior Oregon state director for The HSUS, believe the legislation will protect both public safety and animal welfare.
"Wild animals can attack, they can spread disease and the average citizen cannot meet their needs in captivity. They belong in the wild. Fortunately, state lawmakers are poised to address this issue, and we urge the House to pass S.B. 391."
Owners of these animals disagree with the assessment, suggesting that it is actually a somewhat small, fringe movement that is taking place, but one that is extremely well funded and organized to push laws like Senate Bill 391.
In addition to general ownership of wild and exotic pets, the legislation would also bar "companion pets" that are often useful in treating complicated issues like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; a burden carried by hundreds of thousands of U.S. military veterans of the wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
But that's not enough to sell Sharon Harmon, OHS executive director, on the idea. She said, "Wild animals aren't suitable as companion animals. Having a wild animal in your home puts both the animal and the owner at risk of getting injured."
Activists trying to halt the legislation say one more right is going to disappear in Oregon, and they stress that with education and other laws, the "fear factor" being used by the groups to pass S.B. 391 could be greatly minimized.
In addition to Senators Hass and Boquist, the bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Vicki Berger, R-20, Scott Bruun, R-37, Bill Garrard, R-56, Mike Schaufler, D-48, Brad Witt, D-31 and Arnie Roblan, D-9.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. In addition to his role as a war correspondent, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor.
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