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SC: Press: Public to discuss exotic pet ban

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Posted by W von Papineäu on November 13, 2002 at 08:47:10:

In Reply to: SC: Lexington Co Council holding exotic pet hearing Tues. posted by desiree on November 11, 2002 at 19:18:30:

THE STATE (Columbia, S Carolina) 11 November 02 Public to discuss exotic pet ban - Some residents say Lexington County Council should leave certain animals off its list (April Simun)
The Bennetts keep about 40 snakes -- some of them longer than 8 feet -- in the garage of their Whitehall home near Irmo.
The three Bennett children pick up the snakes without hesitation, just as a child would hold a puppy or a kitten. They know to be careful not to hurt the pets and that washing their hands after handling them keeps the snakes from spreading disease.
The Bennetts say they hate to think about how their lives would be affected if a proposed Lexington County ban on exotic animals included snakes.
Many county residents, who either own exotic pets or oppose their ownership, are concerned about what council might ban. On Tuesday, council will hear from the public on the issue.
"If they said I couldn't have my pets, I'd definitely fight it anyway I can because I grew up with these," said Sean Bennett, 15. "I'm just as accustomed to these as anybody else is to the dog they've had since they were 2."
Most of County Council isn't proposing to limit snakes, although that has been on the table during discussion.
The council is considering banning: hippopotamuses, giraffes, all large cats, wolves, coyotes, jackals, bears, hyenas, rhinoceroses, gorillas, elephants and crocodiles. But the council would allow owners who are licensed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to keep their animals.
Council has altered its plan and the list several times since it began discussions in August.
At one point, the ban would have prohibited poisonous snakes and some others that grow longer than 8 feet. Although several council members say they want to avoid banning snakes, some have said it's a good idea. Council can still change the list of banned animals after the public hearing.
Council proposed the ban after two pet lions got loose this summer in the Sandy Run community near Swansea.
The owner, Abbie Cochran, said last month that she moved the two female 15-month-old lions from her home in Sandy Run to Georgia. Cochran's husband, Charles Cochran, said they didn't wish to comment for this story.
County Council members say their primary concern in establishing an exotic animals ban is protecting residents.
"This entire issue is based on the safety of the citizens of Lexington County," Councilman Johnny Jeffcoat said. "The issue at hand is having these large cats roaming the streets and countryside of the county."
Under USDA licensing, Grady McGee, 74, has kept and bred large cats in pens behind his home in Summit for 25 years.
Although he has no tigers now, McGee has long kept cougars, tigers and bobcats. McGee declined to say exactly what or how many animals he has, but he said he has scaled back as he has gotten older.
McGee and other USDA-licensed keepers say the agency's regulations are strict, that they keep animal owners on their toes and prevent animal escapes like the one in Sandy Run.
"Too many people think they're play-pretties, and they aren't," he said. "I've had them 25 years. I've had no complaints. Why should someone come in here and say you can't have them? It's not fair."
In compliance with the regulations, McGee has the pens the animals are in enclosed by other pens. That way, if an animal escapes from one pen, it's still trapped in a second or third pen. McGee can clean the pens and feed the animals without ever entering the pen an animal is in.
If an owner is keeping an animal just as a pet, the USDA will not license it, agency spokesman Jim Rogers said. The agency instead requires licensing of those who exhibit, transport, buy or sell animals commercially or those who use animals for research.
The USDA licenses only warm-blooded, nonagricultural animals other than rats, mice and birds. Although licensing of snakes or reptiles is under discussion at the state level, there is no state or federal licensing of those animals.
The USDA conducts unannounced inspections of animal keepers about once a year, Rogers said. If the agency has problems with a facility or if the public reports complaints, inspectors visit more frequently.
The agency has 99 inspectors nationwide, Rogers said. In 2001, they conducted 12,005 inspections of the 8,881 keepers they had licensed or registered.
Rogers said inspections are adequate, but some animal rights activists say otherwise.
Leslie Armstrong, a circus specialist with the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in Greenville, sent Lexington council members a packet that claims USDA inspection is insufficient.
"It's not just about animal safety and the cruelty to animals, it's also about the public safety," she said. Armstrong and other animal rights activists said monkeys and reptiles carry disease.
Debi Swing, 39, who keeps eight dachshunds at her Red Bank home, said she doesn't see a need for people to own animals other than house cats, domestic dogs, fish and rodents.
Swing said pet relationships should benefit pets and owners. She saved many of her dogs, now all spayed or neutered, from bad home situations or possible death.
She said even smaller, aquarium-type pets, such as hermit crabs, would be better left in their own habitats.
"Why would you have a pet like that," she said. "You've got to think about the pet's rights and how they're affected, also."
Councilman Billy Derrick said he doesn't see the attraction of having snakes as pets.
"I don't understand how you have a snake for a pet," he said. "Do you stroke them, or do you talk to them? ‘.‘.‘. I have a fear of snakes personally. The only good snake is a dead snake, as far as I'm concerned."
Derrick said he's inclined to allow pet snakes only if they're indigenous to Lexington County. Venomous snakes that are indigenous would be allowed. Those that aren't wouldn't.
Steve Bennett, who keeps the 40 snakes at home and who's a Department of Natural Resources biologist with expertise in snakes, has a different opinion.
Bennett said keeping his snakes, which are all nonpoisonous, has been an education, not a danger, for his children.
"I'm into snake conservation," he said. "And anybody who has a pet snake is probably not going to be the person who finds one and hacks the head off or swerves the car to kill one."
Bennett said many animal rights activists want to get rid of all human ownership of pets and snakes are an easy target.
"Reptiles are vulnerable ‘.‘.‘. because reptiles have a P.R. problem," he said.
Many fear the animals, and some reptiles, shed salmonella in their feces. But humans are more apt to get salmonella from badly cooked meat than pet snakes, Bennett said.
"Snakes are really like jewelry in a way," he said. "It's not an animal that you bond to. It's something you keep and you take care of, and every once in a while you take it out and say, 'Man, isn't that beautiful.'"

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