Sunday, April 08, 2007

Serval prompts review of Ill. town's exotic pet ordinances

By Reggie Jarrell, rjarrell@qconline.com
Print publication date: 04/05/2007

Want that king of the jungle in your backyard? Always longed for your own alligator to wrestle?

In many area communities, you'll be out of luck if you want to own an "exotic" pet. In others, though, the law hasn't caught up with people's interest in out-of-the ordinary companion animals.

That's the case in Colona, where city officials learned current ordinances don't address the exotic animal question when approached by a resident who wants to buy a serval.

Servals are a medium-sized wild cat native to Africa. Including their tails, they average about 50 inches long, stand about 22 inches tall and weigh 30-40 pounds. Usually they are boldly spotted, similar to a young leopard or cheetah.

Colona Ald. Butch Downs, 4th Ward, said the city's ordinance committee will meet in a few weeks to determine what needs to be done.

"What would happen is, we'll look at the current ordinance that we have," he said, and go from there. "We'd like to be able to screen any exotic animal that comes in. Anyone wishing to bring in what we see as an exotic animal will need to come talk with us. We'd want to find out all the details, how it's going to be taken care of."

And it would be up to the city to make the final decision on whether the animal conforms to the law, he said.

The potential pet owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, said he will take delivery of the serval, born about a week ago, in about five weeks.

He said he wanted to make sure he was wouldn't be violating any state or local laws before ordering the exotic cat.

This would be his first exotic pet, but he has owned domestic cats for several years.

Ted Kutsunis, the assistant Rock Island city attorney, said that city does not have a specific ordinance regarding exotic pets, unless they meet the legal definition of being vicious or dangerous.

Mary Thee, Davenport corporate counsel, said the city does have an ordinance that bans certain types of animals or reptiles. The city works with the humane society to enforce of the law, updated in 2000.

Bettendorf's ordinance, updated in 1999, also targets some exotic pets. City attorney Gregory Jager said ownership of certain animals as pets is a crime, enforced by the police department with assistance from the animal shelter.

Moline has ordinances directed to both dangerous and wild animals. According to city ordinance, dangerous animals include "lions; tigers; other jungle, desert or mountain cats; bears; elephants; wolves; foxes; raccoons; monkeys; apes; poisonous or constrictor snakes; and lizards," as well as "any animal which has given its owner or possessor reasons to know that it is dangerous."

The city defines a wild animal as "any animal ferae naturae, or naturally wild."

"There's a generic ordinance for dogs, pets, and certain animals deemed to be dangerous animals," said Dean Sutton, Silvis city attorney, but no Silvis ordinance specifically directed toward exotic animals. He identified some dangerous animals, under the law, as elephants, venomous or poisonous snakes, wild boars, bears, apes and alligators.

State law says "all exotic or non-domestic animals, including prairie dogs, entering Illinois must be accompanied by a (state) permit and an official certificate of veterinary inspection."

People’s reasons for wanting an exotic pet can vary. Many are just looking for something a little different than the usual dog or cat.

Rachael Polito, pet department manager at Teske Pet and Garden Center, Bettendorf, said sometime parents will agree to buy a child a lizard or frog but not a dog.

She said public interest in some exotic pets, like reptiles, is rising, and there are some benefits.

"They are pretty popular," she said. "I think they are growing in popularity. I think it's because they are a little easier to care for than dogs, cats or birds. They don't require that much physical attention."

But Ms. Polito also said some buyers are unprepared for what's to come.

"Sometimes people buy exotic pets and don't know what they are getting into," she said. Problems can develop when the pet becomes larger and the owners don't know what to do with it, she explained.

And, although care for some exotic animals may be simple, that's not always the case.

"The more exotic you get," Ms. Polito warned, "the harder they are to care for."

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