Family, friends of tiger victim plead for animal restrictions
By Chris Green
Harris News Service
TOPEKA – Relatives and friends of a Labette County teenager killed by a tiger last year urged legislators Tuesday to enact tight restrictions on private owners of dangerous exotic animals.
A bill before the Senate Ways and Means Committee would force owners of large, wild cats and bears to maintain a license from the federal agriculture department.
The animals would be barred from contact with the public.
In emotional testimony, Haley Hilderbrand’s mother and stepfather told the committee that changes in the bill would help prevent future attacks.
"I hope that no one ever again has to inform his or her family of a death or injury caused by a dangerous exotic animal," parent Mike Good said.
Hilderbrand, 17, was mauled while posing for a senior portrait with a Siberian tiger at the Lost Creek Animal Sanctuary in Mound Valley.
Her parents, Mike and Ronda Good, said she probably was unaware that there was any danger from the tiger, which was being restrained by a handler.
Hilderbrand’s grandfather, sisters, church pastor and high school friends also testified in support of the legislation during the nearly two-hour hearing.
The bill before the committee would place restrictions on the ownership of lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, mountain lions and bears, along with hybrid-breeds of those animals.
Animal owners would be forced to meet federal caging and care guidelines. They’d also be required to notify the public and local officials about their animals; carry liability insurance worth at least $250,000; and have a written recovery plan for potential escapes.
Accredited zoos and registered wildlife sanctuaries would not be impacted.
However, some animal-owner advocates asked lawmakers to make the regulations too onerous or ban exotic cats outright.
Matt Baker, an Atchison exotic cat breeder, said Hilderbrand’s death was unfortunate but said he considered it to be the result of improper handling.
"There is no need to punish those who follow the law because this one person did not," Baker said.
County and state officials said state laws were inadequate to deal with a growing problem because they didn’t restrict ownership of large cats.
Exhibitors of big cats do have some federal government oversight and some local governments have enacted their own restrictions.
"Our present laws leave the door open for other accidents to happen and the safety of the public to be in jeopardy," Sen. Greta Goodwin, D-Winfield, said.
Wildlife and Parks Secretary Mike Hayden said tougher laws would keep the state from becoming a haven for exotic animal owners fleeing other states’ laws.
Senate budget Chairman Dwayne Umbarger, R-Thayer, said he expects the bill to come up for discussion again sometime next week.
"I’m hoping that at the end of this season, we will win this game," said Umbarger, who introduced the legislation to the committee.
For the cats,
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
Sign our petition here:
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