Legislature looking at proposals
By Hieu Pham
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Trained to treat domestic animals, veterinarian Jennifer Doll, who runs the Witty Kitties Animal Shelter near Shueyville, never thought half of her job would be taking in bears, cougars or alligators.
“There’s absolutely no reason for people to own exotic animals,” said Doll, a proponent of a new proposal in the Legislature banning ownership of “dangerous wild animals.”
Witty Kitties Animal Shelter, 3133 Robert Ferry Road N.E. near Shueyville, is one of a few animal shelters in Eastern Iowa equipped to take in exotic animals. Doll and her husband, Torben Platt, take care of five poisonous snakes, two alligators and two caimans. In the past, they’ve also housed a bear and several cougars.
“There is already a cat and dog overpopulation, even a horse overpopulation,” Doll said. “There is no reason to add animals that people don’t know how to handle.”
Iowa City laws either prohibit people from owning exotic animals, such as bears and cougars, or require permits for animals such as ferrets or iguanas. However, this is not the case for many cities in Iowa where owning a bear is legal.
But some state lawmakers are hoping to change that. The Legislature is looking at two proposals: an outright ban on exotic animals or a permit system for a small number of animals.
Doll is pushing for the ban.
“Taking care of exotic animals is No.1, time-consuming, costly and so awful for the animals,” she said.
Animal rescue workers support the ban, too, because they say most people are not trained to raise exotic animals, whose needs are vastly different from domestic or agricultural animals.
As a result, they say animals are abandoned or given to shelters. Once, Doll said she was called to pick up an alligator that was strolling in the middle of the street in a small town. And she said most of the loose cougars reported in Iowa are released pets.
Doll said her shelter can’t handle the expense it takes to care for exotic animals. For example, its 15-foot Burmese python requires heating conditions at 90 degrees.
“We take them because nobody else wants them,” she said.
Misha Goodman, director of the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center, said there are many ways to buy exotic animals, including auctions and the Internet.
“You’re going to find them all over the country,” Goodman said.
Last year, a similar ban was passed in the Senate but stalled in the House. Critics of the bill, including a coalition of animal breeders from The Federation of Animal Owners, support a less restrictive bill proposed by Rep. Clel Baudler, a Republican from Adair County.
That bill would regulate only lions, tigers, bears, pandas, gorillas and chimpanzees, or the offspring of those animals.
Under the proposed bill, existing owners could keep their animals if they pay a registration fee. Otherwise, buying or breeding exotic animals — wolves, coyotes, jackals, hyenas, lions, tigers, cougars, leopards, cheetahs, ocelots, bears, pandas, rhinoceroses, elephants, alligators, crocodiles, venomous snakes, certain constrictors such as pythons and anacondas, and “primates other than humans” — would be prohibited.
Owning a prohibited animal in Iowa City is a simple misdemeanor with a $100 fine; owning a restricted animal without a license carries the same fine.