Some exotic pet owners are worried a bill that passed the state Senate last month could monkey with their lives.
Senate Bill 477 was passed Feb. 17. It requires state residents to obtain a permit before they can own, possess, breed or transport a wild or exotic animal.
As defined by the bill, "exotic animals" can include mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fresh water fish.
The legislation was introduced to the House of Delegates on Feb. 20 but has not moved past the House Judiciary committee since that time.
The bill would require pet owners to pay $200 every other year to keep their animal permits. If owners failed to comply with the law, the state Division of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture or Bureau for Public Health would have the authority to confiscate the animals.
Those agencies also would have authority to quarantine or kill exotic animals if they were found to be a threat to public health, native wildlife or livestock.
Rhonda Kelly of Preston County is worried the new law might take away her marmosets Skeeter, who is 7 years old, and Spider, who is 2.
Kelly runs MarmosetMom.com, a site that sells clothing, food and diapers for the pint-sized primates. She said clients in other states are required to obtain permits for their marmosets, but that has never been the case in West Virginia.
"That's what I liked about West Virginia. I always felt like this is a free state. Now it feels like Big Brother's got their hands in our pockets here, too," she said. "Isn't this a free county? Don't we have rights?"
Kelly said half-pound animals like marmosets aren't a danger to anyone, and singling out exotic pets is unfair. Traditional pets like cats and dogs can be dangerous, too, she said.
"This is my choice on what pet I want. These animals are every bit as affectionate as a dog or a cat. Do you know how many people go to the hospital over cat bites? Cats are horrible," she said.
Kelly said she is particularly upset by language in the bill that would allow the state to take animals away from their owners.
"They're going to have to kill me first. These are my kids. And I'll protect them the same way I would protect my children," she said.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, introduced the exotic animals bill last month.
He said he introduced the legislation in reaction to the bizarre story of Terry Thompson, a Zanesville, Ohio, man who last year released over 50 tigers, lions, monkeys, leopards, bears and other exotic animals into his community before killing himself.
Kessler lives in Glen Dale, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Zanesville.