The Little Rock Zoo

.The Little Rock Zoo needs to step up and care for the animals better! Please read the several artciles here with deaths, sickness and a bald chimp!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Oregonians Fighting Against Primate Laws

BY JAMES PITKIN | jpitkin at wweek dot com

[March 25th, 2009]

This month, a public hearing in the state Capitol got personal.

The debate pitted Mark Hass, a former TV reporter turned state senator from Raleigh Hills, against a ragtag crew of what you might call average Oregonians.

Average, that is, if most Oregonians spent their days changing monkey diapers and feeding Siberian tigers.

The hearing turned on a simple question: Should citizens be allowed to keep wild and exotic animals as pets?

The Legislature has tried unsuccessfully to outlaw such animals three times before, twice with Hass leading the effort. This time around, his frustration was starting to show.

Near the end of the hourlong hearing, Hass finally snapped at his opponents. He pointed to the bill’s supporters.

“We have heard from doctors of veterinary medicine. We have heard from scientists [and] law enforcement,” he said.

Then he turned to his antagonists.

“I was just wondering, with all due respect, if you could give us your numbers of years in any formal training.”

“It made me feel awful,” says Molly Schaefer, an exotic animal breeder with 20 years’ experience but no formal schooling in animals. “I walked out of that room feeling pretty low.”

This may be the year Hass succeeds. Senate Bill 391, which he’s co-sponsoring with state Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas), would make keeping a wild or exotic animal as a pet a violation of state law.

It’s not that Hass is down on pets. Quite the opposite. Proud owner of Elly and Gilbert, golden retrievers that have appeared in his campaign fliers, Hass thinks keeping wild animals away from the wilderness and others of their kind is inhumane.

Lions, tigers, bears, monkeys—Hass says they simply don’t belong in people’s homes.

“What that is, is neglect,” he says. “Inadvertent abuse.”

Plus, Hass says they threaten public safety—a point that is easier to make after a 200-pound chimp named Travis tore off a woman’s face in Connecticut last month.

Yet Hass’ bill faces vigorous opposition from Schaefer and others who work with exotic animals every day. They say those animals are often better off in captivity—offering educational opportunities and a bond with humans that are too extraordinary to outlaw.

Hass isn’t swayed.

“The overriding public policy here is that wild animals should live in the wild,” he insists. And like all talented legislators, he has an anecdote to support his cause.

For Hass, it’s all about Al the alligator.

Four feet long and restless, Al escaped from his owner’s home in the summer of 2002 and wandered for days through the Beaverton suburbs. Neighbors panicked and TV news cameras rolled.

“Fortunately, he didn’t eat any kids or cats or dogs,” Hass says. “But unfortunately, he was almost dead when the police found him.”

With the economy in free fall, exotic pets don’t exactly top anyone’s list of pressing emergencies. But after Travis’ attack in Connecticut, Hass isn’t the only Oregon lawmaker with monkeys on his mind.

Late-night TV viewers may recall a comic shellacking Democratic congressman Earl Blumenauer suffered last month at the hands of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

Blumenauer’s blunder? The congressman from Portland is tackling a problem he frames as a significant threat to public safety. That is, of course, interstate trafficking in pet primates.

Showing clips of a bowtied Blumenauer on the House floor, Stewart dubbed him “Congressman Orville Redenbacher” and joked about Blumenauer’s secret desire to kiss a chimp’s “soft, soft monkey lips.”

For Blumenauer, who has described The Daily Show as his personal favorite, the ribbing may have been particularly painful. The normally voluble congressman did not respond to WW’s repeated requests for an interview.

Stewart had a larger point in the 10-minute segment titled “Felonious Monkeys.” Why fret about apes when Americans face generational challenges like war and recession?

But true to his inner wonk, Blumenauer has plenty of arguments to support his Captive Primate Safety Act.

The bill would ban interstate transport of monkeys, apes and other primates for purposes of the pet trade. It passed the House last year but died in the Senate. Blumenauer voted in favor, and this time he’s taking charge as the main sponsor.

Railing against the primate trade on the House floor last month, Blumenauer seized on the Connecticut attack that left a 55-year-old woman in a coma, her facial bones crushed, her hands and eyelids ripped away.

“The most important issue in the world? Maybe not, until tragedy strikes your family or your community,” Blumenauer said. “We’re also going to have to do something in the long run with other inappropriate pets, like crocodiles and pythons.”

Echoing Hass, Blumenauer described the indignity of turning wild animals into household fixtures.

“Their needs are not being met dressed up in tutus or taught to drink wine from wine glasses,” Blumenauer said. In a reference to the Almighty, he insisted this was “not appropriate treatment for some of God’s creatures.”

Blumenauer’s bill passed the House by a vote of 323-95 on Feb. 24 and now goes to the U.S. Senate. The Oregon Senate passed Hass’ bill 28-2 on March 24. It now goes to the state House.

It’s easy to accuse both politicians of monkeying with minutiae while Rome burns. But what critics fail to grasp is that both Oregon lawmakers have tapped into an issue with incredible appeal.

“This is a mainstream sensibility,” says Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States and a close ally of Blumenauer’s. “We make the argument to all politicians that the public is with us on animal welfare. Opposition to animal cruelty is a universal value.”

For Pacelle and others, our treatment of animals is nothing less than a gauge of our commitment to basic decency.

But the most devoted animal lovers are divided on whether creatures like Al and Travis make good pets. Now Hass and Blumenauer have stirred that debate in Congress, in Salem, and in homes like Kellie Navarro’s.

When Navarro opens her door at the end of a gravel drive in the hills outside Rainier, Ore., a Maltese, four terriers and a Chihuahua scramble across the oak floor, yapping at her visitor.

A high-pitched cheeping, almost out of audible range, cuts above the squall. Riding atop one Yorkie’s back is T-Myrrha, a 6-inch monkey in a plastic diaper.

The cries the monkey makes once rang through the jungles of Costa Rica and Colombia. Today, cotton-top tamarins are endangered and more often found in captivity—like Navarro’s handsome 3,500-square-foot house.

Her house and 2-acre yard are also home to two Great Danes, a macaw, a cockatiel, a horse, two guinea pigs, a housecat, and a bobcat named Meerah who lives in a wire pen out back.

But T-Myrrha the monkey has a prized place.

She eats the same food Navarro eats, fed by Navarro’s hand. Navarro takes her everywhere in a tote bag, or riding between her breasts. They’re together 24 hours a day—T-Myrrha sleeps in an open box next to Navarro’s bed.

“I can’t say I love any animal more than another, but T-Myrrha is different,” says Navarro, who shares the home with her husband and 5-year-old daughter. “You feel a twinge in your chest, like the love for a child.”

Navarro says responsible owners should be allowed to keep wild animals. And several dozen Oregonians—in addition to researchers, breeders, dealers and exhibitors—take advantage of that right under current law.

Anyone in Oregon can own a wild animal—all it takes is a permit from the state Department of Agriculture that costs $50 to $300, depending on the animal. There are now 42 permits statewide, including Navarro’s, mostly for exotic cats, foxes and small monkeys. No one currently has a permit to keep a chimp or any other great ape.

Before the state issues a permit, a veterinarian makes sure the owner has an adequate enclosure. There’s a follow-up inspection every two years. Most owners follow the rules, and permits are rarely denied or revoked, says Bruce Pokarney, a state Department of Agriculture spokesman.

That would all change if Hass succeeds. Even in the midst of a recession, he says banning exotic pets is a worthy cause.

“Someday we’re going to be through this patch of weeds, and…I think it’s important for us to have worked on these [other] issues,” Hass says. “This is not a new issue, and it’s not a whimsical issue. We’re not talking about the state bird, here.”

If Hass’ bill passes, people who already own wild animals as pets could keep them. New permits would be available for six months after the bill takes effect. But after that, no new wild animals would be allowed. The ban would not affect zoos, researchers, breeders, dealers and exhibitors, who are licensed by the feds.

Many of Hass’ arguments are couched in poll-tested public-safety lingo. Cops don’t know what to do with a wild animal on the loose, he says, either before or after it’s caught. For neighbors and bystanders, the dangers include not just animal bites but the diseases they transmit.

Yet Hass is frustrated by a handful of owners who have blocked a ban in the past.

“They have successfully lobbied rural legislators about freedom and a way of life,” he says, “and I just don’t understand that.”

The controversy pits veterinarians and conservationists who support Hass’ bill against breeders and exhibitors who have spent years caring for—and making their living from—exotic animals.

His loudest opponent is Molly Schaefer, the breeder Hass grilled about her education. Owner of Jungle Fever Exotics in Salem, she declined to tell WW how many animals she keeps or what kind, saying she fears retaliation from animal-rights activists.

Schaefer says a ban would have little effect on her business. Only a handful of Oregon breeders sell their animals, she says, mainly to other federally licensed facilities that would not be affected by the ban.

In part, she says, she’s fighting to give wild animals the right to live in captivity.

“They try and make it sound like captivity is horrible for wild animals,” she says. “If you love animals, you wouldn’t want them to be in those circumstances in the wild.”

But Hass has some powerful names on his side.

Tony Vecchio, director of the Oregon Zoo, told the state Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources that wild animals in homes are often neglected.

“We get hundreds of calls every year from people who have gotten into something and they’re trying to get out of it,” he said. “They usually call us and try to sell us the animal. When I won’t buy it, then they try to donate it.”

Vecchio’s statement suggests there are many owners without permits. That was backed up by Douglas County Sheriff’s Deputy Lee Bartholomew, who told the Senate committee he knows of at least two dozen illegal owners in his Southern Oregon county alone.

Bartholomew told the committee stories of a rampaging capuchin monkey that jumped on a paperboy’s head, and a macaque monkey that ran into a man’s house and started going through his laundry.

“It bit him on the thigh, and we had to quarantine him and the monkey for six months for herpes,” Bartholomew said.

None of this holds much sway for Mike Daly, a former two-term Deschutes County commissioner who lost in last November’s election. His wife, Darlene, kept a capuchin monkey for 13 years.

“My wife was never blessed with children of her own. One time she was at a picnic, and there was a lady there with a capuchin monkey,” Daly says. “My wife fell in love with this little monkey, and she wanted to get one.”

After getting a state permit, the couple raised Andy like a child at their home in Redmond, dressing him in diapers and coveralls.

HUMANE SOCIETY PRESIDENT WAYNE PACELLE: “Opposition to animal cruelty is a universal value.”

“The monkey filled the void,” Daly says—until Andy died last September of a congenital heart defect. “There was a big hole,” Daly says. “My wife has hardly gotten over it.”

They’d like to buy a new capuchin, but Hass’ and Blumenauer’s bills would block their way. And standing in their corner is the biggest gorilla in the pack.

Behind both politicos’ efforts stands the Humane Society of the United States. With a $120 million annual budget and 11 million members—one in every 28 Americans—the HSUS is the titan of the animal-protection movement.

Not to be confused with the Oregon Humane Society, a separate organization, the HSUS and its Salem lobbyist, Kelly Peterson, are major backers of Hass’ ban—part of a national campaign to end exotic pet ownership.

About 30 states already have some sort of ban on wild and exotic pets. Along with the fight in Salem, the HSUS is pushing similar legislation in Connecticut and Missouri, tighter regulations in Delaware and Florida, and hybrid-wolf bans in Washington and Montana.

The HSUS has taken an aggressive stance in the five years since Pacelle took over as president. The first vegan to head the organization, he transformed a nonprofit known for helping dogs and cats into a savvy political machine that’s taken on the meatpacking industry and trophy hunters.

Pacelle has gone on the offensive against lawmakers deemed unfriendly to animals. HSUS spent $400,000 through an affiliate last fall on TV ads that helped defeat then-U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg (R-Mich.), who was influential in killing bills aimed at commercial whaling and trophy hunting. Prior campaigns helped take out former U.S. Reps. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) and Chris John (D-La.) in his 2004 Senate bid.

At the same time, Pacelle has cultivated a working relationship with Blumenauer. In 2003, Blumenauer championed a failed bill to stop the processing of disabled cattle. Last year he pushed through legislation making dogfighting and cockfighting a federal crime—helped by former NFL star Michael Vick’s dog-fighting bust.

As a result, the Humane Society named Blumenauer its Humane Legislator of the Year for 2008. Pacelle has won a staunch ally on Capitol Hill, and Blumenauer makes headlines pushing bills with broad public appeal.

“We have a very good relationship with the congressman,” says Michael Markarian, executive vice president of HSUS. “He’s one of the best leaders on these issues.”

None of which is any comfort to Kirstine O’Dell. The 68-year-old retiree says she’s every bit the animal lover Hass and Blumenauer are. But that love is focused on a baby capuchin monkey named Princess Leia.

O’Dell says her husband started having an affair after she was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 years ago. So she kicked him out and found companionship with two capuchin monkeys named Yoda and Sam.

She gave them away after she became ill again. Six months ago, she felt better and bought Princess Leia for $8,500 from a dealer on the East Coast who shipped the newborn cross-country to O’Dell, who, coincidentally, also lives in Rainier.

Capuchins are larger than tamarins, growing up to 2 feet long, minus the tail. Made famous as organ-grinder monkeys, they’ve also been trained to aid paraplegics—microwaving food, opening bottles and helping them bathe.

Princess can be a handful.

“Mine knows how to turn the lights off and on. She also knows how to eat my plants,” O’Dell says. “If you put a diaper on her, she’s going to scream and yell and wrestle like any little kid would.”

But O’Dell says their bond is growing. They eat together at the same table and even sleep in the same bed.

“If you cry, she’ll put her little arms around you and cry too,” O’Dell says. “I don’t know hardly anybody that has one of these that is just not totally devoted to them. You either love them or you don’t. There is no in-between.”

If Hass’ ban passes, violators would be forced to give up their animals and could face civil penalties, including fines determined on a case-by-case basis.

Multnomah County outlawed exotic pet ownership in 1997 after neighbors complained about a Southwest Portland man who let his pet Siberian tiger named Kulia roam outside of its cage in his back yard, in violation of his state permit.

State law defines exotic animals as big cats, nonhuman primates, wolves, other non-domestic canines, and all bears except black bears. Hass’ ban would add alligators and crocodiles to the list.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) spoke against Blumenauer’s bill on the House floor. “Just to clear the deck and make sure that everything is up front, I own no monkeys,” Bishop said. “I am annoyed by rally monkeys at [baseball] games. Other than that, there is no personal interest here.”


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