Cities no place for call of wild:
Exotic animals target of probes, as are "vicious" dogs
by Barrie Barber and Gus Burns | The Saginaw News
Sunday March 15, 2009, 1:00 AM
Saginaw News FileIn this 1997 file photo, Larry Sparks with new 3-month-old
lion cub, Thunder.
Saginaw Township, the suburb of cul-de-sacs and shopping outlets, might ban
exotic animals even though officials aren't aware of any slithering or
lurking behind closed doors or in backyards.
It's the unknown that makes leaders cautious.
"There are serious issues about keeping exotic animals," said Bridget Smith,
"If you look across the country, there are people who keep animals like
panthers and chimpanzees."
Other communities have put up zoning walls against the call of the wild. They
have rules that ban alligators, bears, lemurs, wild birds, exotic predator
cats, monkeys, deer and other species.
Last month, the U.S. House passed the Captive Primate Safety Act that would
ban the interstate sale of primates as pets. The action followed a 200-pound
chimpanzee's brutal attack on 55-year-old Charla Nash on Feb. 16 in Stamford,
Conn. that left her clinging to life with disfiguring injuries.
Closer to home, in Carrollton Township, an African palm civet, a catlike
tropical forest-dwelling carnivore indigenous to Africa and Asia, mothers her
newborn litter near a couch at Jeremiah D. Tietz's home.
Living with exotic animals is nothing new to Tietz; he's been around them
since childhood. In addition to six civets, he keeps anteaters, monkeys and
sloths, which he's done for decades without incident.
Alex Slitz | The Saginaw NewsSaginaw Animal Control officers lead a pit bull
away from a scene in Buena Vista Township where a pack of dogs attacked and
injured two people.
Saginaw County has no law banning exotic animals, said Valerie McCullough,
director of the County Animal Care Center.
State law bans large carnivores as pets such as lions, cheetahs and tigers
and bears, said Dr. Michele Finateri, a veterinarian and state Department of
Agriculture program manager for licensing and rabies.
A separate act bans wolf dogs, or a dog cross-bred with a wolf. The exception
is the owner must have owned the animal and have a permit from a police
agency before the law went into effect in 2000.
Prospective pet owners call the veterinarian to ask what they can own
legally, Finateri said.
Alligators and monkeys remain unencumbered under Department of Agriculture
rules, unless local communities make their own, she said.
While Saginaw Township Police Chief Donald F. Pussehl Jr. hasn't encountered
any wild animals in ranch houses, the former Saginaw police chief said a man
once kept a 350-pound pet lion in the city limits.
Larry R. Sparks, known in some circles as "The Lion Man," at one time owned
two lions: Thunder, a cub that died in 1998, and a fully grown lioness, Sheba,
which died in 1997. City officials had to order Sparks to remove her rotting
carcass from his backyard.
"I'm not in favor of any more laws," said Tietz, who owns Animal Kingdom Pet
Store at 933 Gratiot in Saginaw. "Most people that have them (exotic pets)
are responsible with them.
Accidents do happen sometimes, but they just get publicized more because
they're something rare …
"It's kind of a fluke thing; there are more pit bull attacks in Saginaw than
there is monkey attacks in the whole country."
A trio of the powerful canines attacked Bridgetta Hadley, 42, and neighbor
Duane VanLanHam, 48, of Buena Vista Township on March 5, prompting Buena Vista
Police Chief Brian Booker to say his officers will vigorously enforce the
community's vicious animal ordinance.
Saginaw has no rules regarding vicious dogs. Saginaw Township has vicious dog
rules, Pussehl said.
Canines on the roam are a common countywide complaint.
"We get a lot of complaints as far as dogs running at large," McCullough
said. "A lot of them are pit bulls."
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue
an Educational Sanctuary home
to more than 100 big cats
12802 Easy Street Tampa, FL 33625
813.493.4564 fax 885.4457
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