Fatal bear attack: State has requirements for granting exotic pet permits
By Andrew Scott
Pocono Record Writers
October 06, 2009 12:00 AM
and Howard Frank
From Tiger World News: Please note the references to tigers in this article which are highlighted. They are made by Poconos veterinarian and exotic animal consultant Dr. Tom Miller. “They are like housecats.”
One doesn’t need an extensive knowledge of exotic wild animals to be granted a Pennsylvania Game Commission permit to own such an animal as a pet, said Game Commission information and education supervisor Tim Conway.
But, “anytime you deal with something like a large exotic animal, the potential is always there for them to hurt you,” said Poconos veterinarian and exotic animal consultant Dr. Tom Miller. “As exotic animal owners, you have to realize that and respect that.”
Kelly Ann Walz, 37, of Ross Township, was fatally mauled by her pet black bear Sunday when she went in to clean the animal’s cage, police said. Others saw the attack and called for help, at which point a neighbor shot and killed the bear.
Walz, who once worked at a New Hampshire animal breeding facility, married Michael Walz in 2000.
The couple had been living on a secluded, eight-acre property, where they had various types of exotic pets — such as lions, tigers, reptiles and Old English bulldogs — in Ross Township.
The couple’s exotic pet ownership permit expired in June 2008, according to Associated Press reports.
A caged lion could be seen on the property Monday morning.
“Bears are known to be the most unpredictable exotic animals out there,” Miller said. “The trainers I’ve talked to say they are one of the toughest animals to train because of their unpredictability.”
Owners being attacked by exotic pets is a situation that occurs throughout the United States, Conway said.
One requirement someone must meet in order to be granted a Game Commission permit to own an exotic wild animal as a pet is having a two-section cage to house the animal, Conway said. Before going in to clean the cage, the owner should make sure the animal is safely in the section where it cannot get at the owner.
Based on what police have said, it doesn’t appear the bear was safely in a segregated area when Walz went in to clean the cage.
Game Commission permits require these cages to be durable, weatherproof and of certain sizes depending on the types of animals being housed, Conway said.
Local wildlife conservation officers inspect the cages before permits can be granted or renewed.
Also, a permit applicant must supply the Game Commission with a letter from the applicant’s municipality saying the municipality has no ordinances against exotic pet ownership within its boundaries.
In addition, applicants must show proof that they obtained their pets from a licensed exotic animal dealer. To become a licensed dealer, one must provide documentation proving they have been working hands-on with such animals for at least two years up to that point, Conway said.
According to Ross Township Zoning Officer Gerald Kyle, the township had received no complaints about the animals kept at the property in the three years he has been zoning officer. There was one noise complaint years ago but it was against the property’s previous owner, said Howard Beers Jr., Ross Township Board of Supervisors chairman. The animals kept at the property were regulated only by the game commission and no township permits were required, Kyle said.
Exotic pet owners’ permits can be renewed every one, two or three years through the Game Commission. More than 100 people or facilities in Pennsylvania own exotic animals as pets, Conway said.
Miller worked with one such owner, Jim Fowler and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, for about 15 years.
“A lot of people think we’re doing something they think we shouldn’t be doing,” Miller said. “The reason we do this is not to exploit these exotic animals. We are giving people a chance to experience something people wouldn’t be able to in the wild.
“People come into our place and say tigers would need 300 acres of space to roam, but they need that space to hunt and breed,” Miller said. “Otherwise, they really don’t they need that space to hunt. They are like house cats. They are very comfortable in a confined space. Bears out in the wild, they will roam. They have breeding, feeding nesting areas, but they will sit in the same damn corner all day.”
Some people also object to confining these animals. But, Miller said, in the same light, that it could be considered cruel to lock your dog in a house all day.
He said exotics “aren’t animals that have been out in the wild. These are domesticated animals. They don’t know the wild any more than your dogs do.”
The Walzes were longtime members of the New Covenant World Outreach Church in Brodheadsville, said Pastor Kevin Gallagher in a message left with the Pocono Record on Monday.
“Her family and church family are just mourning the loss of Kelly Walz and we are asking that everyone respect the privacy of the family and we look forward to hearing from any friends and family who have not contacted Michael and the children yet,” Gallagher said.
The Pocono Record left a message Monday with the Game Commission’s Harrisburg office, requesting a list of Pennsylvania’s exotic pet owners, but did not receive a reply.
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