Officials abandon 2001 decision, allow just 5 owners to keep critters
06:21 AM CDT on Tuesday, March 27, 2007
By JIM GETZ / The Dallas Morning News
Owners of lions and tigers and bears can forget about moving to Kaufman County.
County commissioners voted 3-1 Monday to allow the five known owners of exotic animals in the county to continue keeping the animals but banned any others, including those who could team up with current owners.
The commissioners' order also requires any of the owners – Doug Terranova of Terranova Enterprises, Marcus Cook of Zoo Dynamics, Gary Holliman of PrideRock Wildlife Refuge, James Hall of Castle's Bears and serval owners Beth and Corey Junell – to get commissioners' approval before buying more land to expand their operations.
Commissioner Jim Deller cast the lone "no" vote. He wanted a complete ban, noting that Kaufman County's population has risen to an estimated 98,350, about 25,000 more than in 2001, when Kaufman County voted to register exotics instead of ban them.
"I don't want to see those kinds of animals in the county if we can prevent it," Mr. Deller said after Monday's meeting. "All the counties around us have banned them, except for zoos."
A "dangerous wild animal" law that the Legislature passed in 2001 gave counties the choice of banning the animals or registering them. The vast majority of counties banned the listed animals, including exotic cats, bears, coyotes, baboons, chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. Animals not deemed dangerous include elephants, wolves, rhinos, other primates and reptiles.
Kaufman County officials, despite voting more than five years ago for registration, have never enforced the requirement. Only the Junells, whose three African cats each weigh less than 40 pounds, have registered.
The issue came to a head in recent months after two events: First, a tiger mauled a lawn worker on Mr. Cook's property last summer, although it did not escape the compound. Then, another Kaufman County resident had livestock killed by what a game warden suspected was a big cat. It couldn't be determined whether the animal was an exotic cat or a native mountain lion.
The commissioners' order did not explicitly require registration by the remaining owners, but Dallas lawyer Robert "Skip" Trimble, who worked with legislators writing the 2001 law and advised commissioner Jerry Rowden on the writing of Kaufman County's updated order, said any county that does not ban exotics must register them.
Mr. Terranova and Mr. Cook told the commissioners Monday that they would have no problem complying with registration and inspections but did not favor a total ban.
"With the stroke of a pen, you could technically make me an illegal citizen," Mr. Terranova said. "I don't see how you can do that."
"Inspection and registration are nothing new to us," said Mr. Cook, noting that the U.S. Department of Agriculture inspected his operation 14 times in the last three years. "We welcome it 110 percent."
Mr. Terranova said that because of the USDA inspections, he and other owners maintain safety practices strict enough that the rapid migration of new residents into Kaufman County shouldn't matter. An animal trainer, Mr. Terranova also said he was willing to work with the sheriff if any animal needed to be captured.
Sheriff David Byrnes was unsure how much time, money or manpower it would take to register the current owners and enforce the law against others. He said he would get expert advice on how to capture a big cat if one escapes and where to take it.
"We'll use common sense," he said. "Obviously, we're not going to go jerking around a tiger."
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