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City Council ponders exotic aniamal ban

Lions and tigers and bears no more. No howler monkeys, either. No saltwater crocodiles in the bathtub, no house-broken ostriches with their heads in refrigerators, and no moose in the spare bedroom.

And maybe no sparklers on the Fourth of July, either.

The Oak Harbor City Council will contemplate an ordinance next Tuesday which would ban exotic animals within the city limits. The public is welcome to speak on the issue.

City staff is also “introducing” a proposed ordinance that would ban all fireworks within the city limits. The council probably won’t discuss the ban until they hold a public meeting on the proposed ordinance at the June meeting.

Allison Cumberbatch, assistant city attorney, said the proposed exotic animal ordinance would make it a misdemeanor crime for residents to invite any of a long list of creatures into their homes.

The list includes non-domesticated felines, bears, nonhuman primates, non-domesticated canines and hybrids, alligators and crocodiles, constricting snakes longer than four feet, venomous animals, emus and ostriches, antelope and elk, skunks, wallabies and kangaroo.

Police Chief Steve Almon said the proposed ordinance isn’t in response to any incidents involving dangerous animals. He said most communities have such ordinances and the city council just wanted to have one in place in case something rears its head.

Animal Control Officer Terry Sampson said the only animal on the list that he’s encountered during his long career with the city occurred about 14 years ago. He had to remove a 16-foot boa constrictor from base housing when the sailor was gone.

But while he’s not aware of any pet baboons or kangaroos in the city, he said there are probably some exotic animals out there.

The parts of the ordinance most likely to affect residents is the ban on snakes longer than four feet and the ban on wolf hybrids. The Island County commissioners adopted a ordinance that regulates wolf hybrids years ago, which caused some controversy among people who own such animals.

Nevertheless, there is no ban on owning exotic animals in the county.

The proposed ban on fireworks, Cumberbatch said, is in response to the growing number of communities in the state which have enacted such moratoriums on all types of Independence Day explosive merriment.

She said the danger of a serious fire or other injuries, as well as the nuisance noise, has grown as the city becomes more dense. She suggested that a quiet majority of folks might feel that an outright ban is a good idea.

“Maybe it’s time to throw it out there and start a dialogue,” she said. “Maybe it’s time to start talking about it.”

Almon pointed out that the current ordinance, which draws a distinction between legal and illegal fireworks, is tough for officers to enforce.

“We do our best,” he said, “but it’s a difficult job. You almost need to carry a chart.”

Yet Cumberbatch said staff recommends that the ban wouldn’t go into effect until next year. The city has already granted permits to various group to sell “safe and sane” fireworks in the city. The sale generates a lot of money for local nonprofit groups.

Of course, the city council may not choose to ban fireworks if there’s a firestorm of opposition to the idea.

“Who doesn’t have memories,” Cumberbatch said, “of running around as a kid with sparklers or lighting off snakes?”

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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