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Hundreds speak out on state’s proposed Dangerous Animal list

By Dave Boucher, Capitol Bureau Chief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than 200 people have submitted comments about the proposed list of banned animals recently released by the state.

The Dangerous Wild Animal Board will meet this week — and at least two more times — to discuss the comments and the animals that did and did not make the cut.

The Department of Agriculture, with the help of the Department of Natural Resources and the state health department, created a proposed list of banned animals. The list was released earlier this month for public comment in the form of a legislative rule. The Legislature must eventually approve the list before any animals are actually banned.

Butch Antolini, spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, said the agency is receiving plenty of phone calls as well. He stressed however, that only written comments, submitted via email or through the mail, will be accepted by the board.

Many people are concerned about their pets, but Antolini said that fear could be premature or misplaced.

“Part of the problem in my mind is people take to social media and the information that’s out there is not always accurate. And that’s what tends to stir people up,” Antolini said Friday.

“And unfortunately, as we all know, when inaccurate information gets out there, it only adds to the confusion.”

Right now the proposed list bans thousands of animals for ownership. Many animals on the list are commonly found in zoos: owning lions, tigers, gorillas, alligators and other exotic animals would be banned for the first time in West Virginia if the proposed list becomes law.

Other animals on the list — or questions about animal exemptions — are causing considerable concern. As the list reads, rabbits, turtles, ferrets, alpacas, chinchillas, some types of hamsters and several types of popular fish are banned.

Creators of the list argue many of those species are actually exempt from the law thanks to an overarching statement included in the proposed rule. It’s already illegal to own wild animals that are naturally found in West Virginia.

The rule says “wildlife species” listed in state law and administrative rules that govern the DNR are exempt from the ban. It also exempts “domestic animals, traditional livestock and alternative livestock” listed in state law and administrative rules that cover the Department of Agriculture.

Portions of the law are vague or conflicting. In some parts, certain rabbits are considered wild animals. In others they’re defined as exotic animals.

Alpaca, Emu and other animals are listed in portions of code referenced by the exemption, but they’re not specifically defined as “alternative livestock.” That phrase never appears in state code or administrative rules, although there are numerous references to “nontraditional livestock.”

Ferrets are mentioned in a part of the law that references animals that need to be tested for rabies. That portion covers the health department though, and is not specifically cited in the exemption.

“The broad exemptions that were put in as a kind of prelude to the list, they may need to be refined,” said Chris Ferro, chief of staff to state Commissioner of Agriculture Walk Helmick.

The subcommittee that created the initial list consisted of scientists and health officials from each of the three state agencies that make up the Dangerous Wild Animal Board. At the time they said there was justification for every animal on the list: they determined the animals were either dangerous to people or the environment.

Other animals, like sugar gliders, a small mammal that looks like a flying squirrel, are banned because they are prone to abandonment. Hedgehogs have been known to carry salmonella, and are banned in other states.

Dr. Letitia Tierney, head of the Bureau for Public Health, cited the same disease as a reason to ban some turtles.

“Turtles carry salmonella and those smaller than 4 inches have the risk of children placing them in their mouths and possibly contracting salmonella,” said health department spokeswoman Allison Adler, citing Tierney’s rationale.

“She also provided input on the puffer fish, which contains a toxin that is lethal to humans, and the piranha for its sharp teeth,” Adler added in a different statement.

There have already been some changes to the list: Originally it didn’t ban owning gorillas or chimpanzees.

The U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers and some other animals organizations are protesting the current composition of the list.

Some have expressed concerns about other aspects of the law, one of which allows people to continue owning banned pets if they obtain a permit. However, those permits cost $100 per animal, leading to at least a few people threatening to dump out their fish tanks, Antolini said.

The organizations are asking people, through their own website and social media, to submit comments to the Department of Agriculture.

The Dangerous Wild Animal Board meets 1 p.m. Thursday at the Department of Agriculture headquarters in Guthrie to talk about those comments. The board is also meeting July 24 and July 30 to discuss comments.

The comment period ends Aug. 2. After compiling comments, the board can revise the proposed list before sending it to the Legislature. State lawmakers have final say on the composition of the list.

Comments can be mailed to the Department of Agriculture’s offices in Charleston or emailed to jodeemartin@wvda.us.

A full copy of the proposed list is available at www.dailymailwv.com.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymailwv.com. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.


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