Exotic pet ownership laws need strengthened

Published: August 26, 2013
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Regarding “Living on the wild side” (News, Aug. 18): Educating people about exotic cats is a worthy endeavor, but it's difficult to see how Bob and Leah Aufill are accomplishing that goal by allowing a lynx to leap around the kitchen and a cougar to sleep in their bed. Promoting such antics doesn't teach anything about the natural beauty and abilities of wild cats or inspire the public to help them. On the contrary, it simply encourages people to acquire wild animals as pets, posing a danger to the people who own them as well as to communities. It also dooms many animals to miserable lives in captivity.

The Aufills' intent isn't malicious. But it's misguided. Captive-bred and hand-raised wild animals still retain their natural instincts. Captive wild animals can escape — as the Aufills' cougar Zinnia did in December 2005 — and they can cause death and injury. The average person doesn't have the knowledge, experience or resources to properly care for wild animals. Taxpayers routinely foot the bill for costs related to escapes, attacks and confiscations as law enforcement and other emergency personnel respond to incidents; nonprofit sanctuaries are often burdened with expensive long-term care when these animals are discarded.

With weak exotic pet ownership laws, Oklahoma has become a haven for owners, breeders and dealers of dangerous wild animals. As more states pass strong policies to protect animals and the public, Oklahoma should follow this trend. I hope our lawmakers take action before we see tragedy strike in one of our communities.

Cynthia Armstrong, Oklahoma City

Armstrong is state director for The Humane Society of the United States.