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CA: Protest Stops Reptile Ban In Chula V

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Posted by: EricWI at Tue Mar 6 20:37:33 2012  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by EricWI ]  

Protest Stops Reptile Ban In Chula Vista
CHULA VISTA, Calif. -- Read the fine print.
That’s what local reptile store owner Mike Yacoub, 36, said he learned last week about proposed city ordinances.
A new law aimed at reducing a growing number of dog and cat euthanizations at the Chula Vista Animal Care Facility also included a ban on owning pythons, boas and certain lizards longer than 3 feet 6 inches.
The measure was revised at the last minute to allow the reptiles. Had it been approved, it would have effectively shut down Yacoub’s 35-year-old business, Southbay Tropical Marine and Reptile on Third Avenue. Yacoub said he discovered the proposed ban about 30 hours before the council was set to take action when he saw an email about it by chance.
The ban was detailed halfway through 57 pages of agenda material on the item.
Public protest from snake owners at the Feb. 28 council meeting caused city leaders to strike the python and boa ban, but it left local reptile owners unsettled.
“I’ve been working in pet stores since I was 16,” Yacoub said. “For 20 years of my life, I’ve been dedicated to the pet industry. For something like that, with the snap of a finger to almost completely disappear in just one day; it was disturbing. No one was aware of this. That law would have passed had we not gone down there.”
Beginning last September, meetings were held to involve the community in drafting language for the pet law revision, including a mandatory microchipping and spay-and-neuter measure for lost dogs and cats that are taken to the local animal shelter.
When the ordinance came forward Feb. 28, in addition to the new dog and cat regulations, it also said no resident would be allowed to possess any wild animals, defined as tigers, monkeys, cougars, and large snakes like boas and pythons. Yacoub estimates that at least 10,000 residents keep snakes as pets in the city. The new rules were changed on the spot to allow pythons and boas and certain large lizards — as long as they are properly contained and cannot escape into neighborhoods.
“We did not realize what the impact was until the affected parties came out and told us,” Assistant City Manager Scott Tulloch said. “At that point, we were happy to change it to something more reasonable.”
There were about 60 community members at each of the three public meetings held on the topic, but many attendees didn’t remember discussing snakes. Also, the city hosted nine stakeholder meetings, each attended by about 12 people.
Yacoub, who teaches reptile awareness programs at Sweetwater schools, said he was never invited.
“Honestly, I don’t think anyone was thinking reptiles. I think they were just talking dogs and cats,” said Councilman Rudy Ramirez, who brought forward the initiative, also aimed at helping the Chula Vista Animal Care Facility recover some funding. The agency’s budget was trimmed from about $2.3 million to $2.1 million for this fiscal year.
The new rules require microchipping a pet at the owner’s expense the first time it gets loose, and require that the pet be spayed or neutered after the next incident, except in extreme situations like an earthquake or flood.
The animal facility impounds on average about 2,600 lost or stray cats, and 2,500 dogs each year. This new statute is aimed at limiting euthanizations, which currently total more than 3,000 a year.
Typically, if an owner decides he or she no longer wants an impounded animal or no one comes to pick it up, adoptable animals are spayed and neutered at taxpayer’s expense. Those animals not qualified for adoption are often euthanized.
Proposed fees for first and second impounds would increase significantly. A pet owner who comes to pick up a lost dog or cat could see a bill of about $175, instead of the $25 impound fee required in the past.
The council is set to adopt the new fee schedule at a later meeting.
The city is also considering charging a $295 fee for a second offense of a loose animal.
Despite the public outreach effort and the last-minute revisions, some community members said the higher fees could cause more euthanizations because some animal owners won’t be able to afford to retrieve their pets.
Kay Anderson, a teacher at Hilltop High School who was involved in the public meetings to draft the ordinance, said the ordinance did not reflect community desires.
“This version is far more punitive and it smacks of being drafted on the fly,” she said.
The new pet ordinance is slated to come back to the City Council for a second reading March 13.


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