What are your thoughts on exotic pet ownership? All for it? Okie-dokie then. Good stuff, good-bye and totsiens (Afrikaans, where lions are) and proshchay (Russian, where tigers are).
Against it like me? Then be warned. You might want to check the bylaws in your jurisdiction. It’s possible six lions and four tigers could move in, along with their owners of course, right next door.
This is exactly what happened recently – although those numbers, six and four, might be off by a head or two – on Parkview Crescent, in the tranquil little lakeside community of Grand Bend, in which I have a family home. The property in question once sported the old Pineridge Zoo, which ceased operation over a decade ago and has since been re-zoned residential.
Responding to serious concerns from residents, town councillors sprung into action, calling an emergency meeting in which they quickly passed a sweeping exotic animal by-law, making it illegal to own lions and tigers.
The owner of the exotic pets, Mark Drysdale, fired back in an interview with Colin Butler for CBC News, in which he called the new ban a “witch hunt” (reminiscent of Trump’s constant rant on the Mueller probe) and declared: “This bylaw will not affect us in any way. All 10 or 12 cats, whatever I have here now, will remain on the property.”
Yes. He doesn’t feel the bylaw affects him. And he said, “10 or 12 cats, whatever”. An accurate head count might be a teensy bit reassuring?
Once it appeared big cats were sprawling and prowling nearby, I called the municipality, to ask how things were proceeding. It seems bylaws, even when passed, take time to fully cook and the person I spoke to couldn’t say when this one will come out of the oven. She also couldn’t confirm that the cats were, in fact, on the property, but if they were she admitted the municipality has no means by which to remove them.
Yikes. Makes sense though when you think about it. Cages for transport? Lion and tiger leashes? Tranquilizer guns, if needed? Bylaw officers trained in the care and movement of lions and tigers?
She assured me that if one escaped, they’d respond to that. Wow.
Hearing the panic in my voice, she did say they were certainly aware of huge safety concerns, and that the issue would remain a top priority until resolved. A recent Facebook post on the matter by Dan Sageman, Councillor-Ward 2 noted, “The Municipality is acting diligently and within the scope of its legal authority. Enforcement measures will be taken as appropriate and through the proper legal channels.” Sound vague to you too?
A fresh Facebook post by a supporter of Drysdale’s proposed Roaring Cat Retreat shows a picture of a lion in a cage eating a massive hunk of what looks like raw meat. The caption reads, in part, “I met the lions today they were such calm beautiful lions.” I would infer from this that the “10 or 12 cats, whatever” are still there. The officiant of that Facebook group noted, “By the way if your pic is an example of his (Drysdale’s) pens or cages a 700 lb cat could break through if it wanted to.” Hmmm.
So, aside from the fact you might prefer not to live next door to lions and tigers, this brings up a startling concern of mine from reading one of the two CBC News pieces on the issue. “Drysdale said he plans on spending $500,000 on enclosures for his animals,” writes Butler. The animals are there! The enclosures are not!
How did, no, how could this happen? The prior CBC news piece by Butler noted, “Critics (of exotic pet ownership) however argue that Ontario’s animal laws are too weak. While it’s illegal to own a pit bull, there are no laws governing the ownership of dangerous predators such as lions, tigers and spitting cobras, nor are there any legal standards for training or the facilities used to house such animals.”
Consequently, as Ann-Marie MacDonald writes on Doc Zone at cbc.ca, “The 2003 Ontario Municipal Act gave municipalities the power to enact exotic animal by-laws, which are not standardized, creating a hodge-podge mess of legislation.”
It’s the same thing south of the border. Bornfreeusa.org tells us, “The sale and possession of exotic animals in the United States is regulated by a patchwork of federal, state, and local laws that generally vary by community and by animal.”
Supporters of exotic pet ownership – and it seems there are quite a few from the comments I received on a Grand Bend Facebook post I made about this issue – say things like “calm beautiful lions”, “big cats that work alongside humans all the time so they are not the vicious animals . . .”, “am more afraid of humans then (sic) these cats”, “would worry more about the coyotes and foxes we have first”, but don’t forget for one moment that these are large, predatory animals that can jump really really high (more than 12 vertical feet for a tiger, a few inches less for a lion).
You can google it, there are tons of examples of “calm beautiful” cats turning on people. A local and fairly recent example is that of Norm Buwalda of Southwold Township, southwest of London, who challenged a ban on exotic animals put in place when a 10-year-old boy suffered neck and head injuries in 2004 after being mauled by one of his tigers. Ridiculously (in my opinion) he won and got to keep his beloved tigers, one of which attacked and killed him in early 2010.
A London Free Press article said Norm Buwalda “treated his animals like family”. It seems Drysdale thinks of his big cats as family too, at least within the realm of dogs and itty-bitty cats, with CBC News writing, “Drysdale also believes his big cats should be considered domestic animals since he earns his living by loaning lions and tigers to movie studios.” Not sure how loaning a lion and/or tiger to a movie studio shrinks it, in size and predatory nature, but whatevs, huh?
Maybe exotic animals don’t scare you. What about the whole concept of zoos, the current trend away from them altogether? There are many, like me, who agree with this statement from bornfreeusa.org, “Born Free USA believes that wild animals belong in the wild, not in private homes as pets or in zoos and other such facilities, and strongly recommends against the purchase and possession of wild and exotic animals.”
Ever thought about what happens to an animal when it has outlived its value at a zoo? Says onegreenplanet.org: “These surplus animals are often sold and traded through an online database . . . Although zoos frequently promote conservation of endangered species through their mission statements (which many do), animal welfare often takes a backseat when the monetary value of a particular animal is no longer worth the time and energy the zoo is investing in them.”
In terms of exotic pet ownership and risk-taking, here’s an interesting quote of Drysdale’s from the CBC interviews: “It’s no different than car racing, parachuting, or unprotected sex.”
I choose not to do any of these things (well, except one, with the person I’ve been married to for several years), but now that Drysdale lives in my neighbourhood with his “10 or 12 cats, whatever”? I have no choice but to risk meeting a lion or tiger while strolling the nearby beach.
Facebook and website photo by Kim Goor shows how I do love exotic animals, displayed safely on clothing. And also left in the wild, where they belong.