Wildlife Images director Dave Siddon could tell countless horror stories of wild animals, from lions to bears, adopted as cute babies then cast away after gaining several hundred pounds.
"We probably are approached by a half-dozen people a month that have wild animals as a pet and they need a home for it," said Siddon, whose father founded the animal rehabilitation center near Merlin.
"Everything from bears to chinchillas and everything in between."
Siddon applauded an Oregon Senate bill passed Tuesday that, if approved by the House, would essentially ban exotic, nonindigenous animals from being kept as pets in the state.
First introduced five years ago by Democratic Sen. Mark Hass of Beaverton when a pet alligator escaped its enclosure and wound up sick and dying in a culvert, the law could take affect as early as May.
Siddon said the proposed law is "something that's been a long time coming" and could lead to stronger laws for other types of wild animals.
The proposed law, which would not affect wildlife rehabilitators, wildlife sanctuaries, zoos, circuses or research and educational facilities, would not force people to give up existing pets but would prevent people from obtaining new ones. In addition, animals indigenous to Oregon, such as bobcats and black bears, would continue to be managed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and not be subject to the new law.
Dr. Alan Kadish, an advocate of exotic pet ownership and a former owner of various types of wild cats, voiced frustration that responsible pet owners would no longer able to obtain certain types of animals.
"The nebulous nature of this law is ludicrous," said Kadish. "No, the majority of people should not, without proper training, own exotic pets that potentially have the connotation of being dangerous, but we have a fiscal crisis and this is your big honkin' deal?"
Kadish warned that, like a surge in gun buying "before Obama took office," irresponsible pet owners would "rush out and get animals" before the new law took effect.
Medford resident Robin Hall, who owns a pet bobcat, said she supports the law for non-indigenous animals, as well as tighter restrictions, through the Fish and Wildlife Department, for cats like hers.
"Whether they're from Oregon or not, I definitely think most pet owners are not qualified to take care of wild animals," said Hall, who adopted "Freckles" three years ago after a family had left her in a dog kennel for the first nine months of her life, unsure how to manage her care, resulting in damage to the cat's legs.
Hall says the cat "pees everywhere" and requires special care, including an expensive enclosure built in her backyard.
"She works out good with us but I wouldn't go trying to find one if anything happened to her," Hall said.
"I pay my $2.50 a year for her permit and they never check on her, but I think if somebody were to take one on, they should have classes or be the right type of person. Wild animals are meant to be wild for a reason."
A handful of exotics would be treated differently under the proposed law. Pet wolves, for example, would no longer be managed by the United States Department of Agriculture, while existing pet alligators, sold in local stores, would require visual inspection and a permit under the new law until the animal passes away.
Alan Schmaltz, owner of Nui Kai pet shop in Medford, said while demand is increasing for pet alligators, he supported a law that would encourage human safety and animal welfare.
"We do sell baby alligators from time to time, during certain seasons when they're available. We just have so much demand for them as pets, but I could see where they might be dangerous and kids could get bitten,"
"It seems like a lot of irresponsible people buy them as pets — the crocodiles and alligators. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if they put a law into place. My wife doesn't want me to carry them at all."
Phoenix resident Jennifer Donnelson, who has a pair of baby alligators, said she was undecided about whether she would "bother getting a permit" if the new law is passed.
Other exotic pet owners in the Rogue Valley, including a man with several foxes, declined to be interviewed for this story.
Don Hansen, state veterinarian for the Oregon Department of Agriculture, said the new law would bring changes in paperwork and manpower.
"For us this is a big deal. These permits would require us to physically inspect the property and the facility and to make sure the person is capable of raising and taking care of the exotic animal they are asking for, which could have some pretty serious consequences," Hansen said.
"It's unknown how it will be managed, but we'll all find out together."
Siddon said he and his staff have spent years caring for animals, mostly indigenous to Oregon but exotic nonetheless, that could not survive in the wild and will live their lives in captivity.
"I can't keep up with how many times we've been called where somebody has a neighbor with a tiger behind a chicken-wire enclosure," he said.
"And you know it's just a matter of time before something spins out of control and somebody is badly injured.
"Typically, laws are designed for the lowest common denominator," Siddon added. "They make laws for bad people that affect good people, too."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org://www.mailtribune.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090329/NEWS/903290336
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