OKC Council wrangling with exotic animal ownership ban proposal

Wednesday, September 22nd 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Each morning after she rises to make
coffee, it hits Mary Talbot: the stench of waste from her
neighbor's Bengal tiger, a cougar and her cubs which are caged in
his back yard.

"The city's own animal welfare supervisor advised me after one
visit to stay out of my back yard unless I take a gun," Mrs.
Talbot told Oklahoma City Council members during a three-hour
public hearing on Tuesday.

"This has been an ongoing ordeal. I have lived in my house for
21 years now, and, for the last five, I haven't been able to use my
back yard."

The council is scheduled to vote Oct. 12 on a proposal to ban
ownership of exotic animals within city limits.

Exotic animals are defined as any felines other than domestic
cats, bears, wolves, coyotes, foxes, jackals, hyenas and all
canines except domestic dogs.

Venomous reptiles are included in the proposed ban, as are boa
constrictors longer than 4 feet; African rock pythons; Burmese
pythons; Indian pythons; reticulated pythons; Anacondas;
crocodiles; caimans; alligators; cassowaries or hybrids of these
animals would be forced to leave.

Gorillas, orangutans, and chimpanzees would be banned, but
smaller monkeys would be allowed if regularly tested and licensed
as disease-free.

Anyone owning an exotic animal would have to register it with
the city by Jan. 1. It would require animals to be removed by June

George Cooper, head of the city animal shelter, said he has seen
an increase in complaints about exotic animals. Local laws deal
with domesticated animals and livestock, but not with exotic
animals that are "inherently dangerous," he said.

"Even if people may raise them from a very early age, these
animals may -- and often do -- revert to their natural tendencies,"
Cooper said. "There are numerous instances where their vicious
nature has been demonstrated."

Cooper said his staff has had to deal with alligators and even
impound an African lion in 1993. Police had to kill a loose cougar
this spring, authorities said.

Larry Dean, Mrs. Talbot's neighor, didn't attend the council
meeting, but dismissed her complaints as unfounded. He said she
once welcomed the animals to the neighborhood.

"This lady has put me through hell," Dean said. "She used to
bring her relatives to see the cats all the time."

Dean said he will sue if his animals are removed.

Others objecting to the ordinance included Sharlotte Campbell of
Total Life Counseling. Ms. Campbell said she uses her monkey
Charlie to work with emotionally troubled teenagers and doesn't
like the proposed testing for small species of non-human primates
aspect of the proposal.

"We had all these tests done when I bought him," Campbell
said. "Why should we have to retest him?"

Mike Wilbanks, who owns numerous snakes, said he didn't believe
the city should classify snakes as exotic animals.

"I've owned pythons for years and never had any problems,"
Wilbanks said.

"If we were to compile a list of animals we say pose a serious
threat to the public, I'd say we'd have to put horses and dogs
above snakes."