- Associated Press - Sunday, September 21, 2014

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - This summer, 7-year-olds who love bunnies and grandparents with spider monkeys gave an earful to West Virginia officials while they decided which animals are too dangerous to own.

A woman snapped selfies with her savannah cat, a 10-year-old assured “there’s nothing bad” about dwarf hamsters, and a conservation educator guaranteed her critters pose no harm “requiring more than a kiss and a Band-Aid.”

Those were a few ways animal lovers and pet store owners pleaded with the state not to forbid their favorite creatures. Sugar gliders, savannah cats, turtles, hedgehogs, ferrets, geckos, tetra fish and guinea pigs stirred up the most commotion, the state Department of Agriculture wrote in its rule. Reptile owners also spoke up.

For the most part, pet people got their way.

The final list of banned animals largely outlawed the likes of lions, rhinos, tigers, apes, gators and crocodiles - animals that people largely agree they don’t want to see in their neighbor’s backyard.

“At the end of the day, I think we made it really clear that the list of animals included in the rules were specific to animals that were truly exotic,” said Paul Johansen, Dangerous Wild Animals board member.

It was an earlier, restrictive draft list that put animal enthusiasts in a tizzy. Some run-of-the-mill animals like rabbits were allowed the entire time, and that wasn’t made clear enough, Johansen said.

“Hedgehogs are not dangerous,” Christina Hannigan wrote in one of about 1,000 pages of public comment on the ban list. “Short-sighted, uneducated, ignorant legislators are dangerous.”

Lawmakers were thinking preventatively when they passed the animal ban in March. They pointed to what happened in Zanesville, Ohio.

In 2011, an eastern Ohio man released 50 exotic and potentially dangerous animals from his farm before he committed suicide. Fearing for the public’s safety, authorities killed 48 of the animals.

Legislators left state agencies with the heavy lifting: figuring out which animals everyday people shouldn’t have. They had plenty of feedback.

Elementary school-aged kids sent in a packet of fill-in-the-blank letters listing animals and why they shouldn’t be banned.

Seven-year-old Kaylee Burkhammer wrote about 6-foot or longer constrictor snakes. Some exotic 6-footers, like pythons and anacondas, were banned, but boa constrictors made the cut.

“If you don’t hurt them, they won’t hurt you,” Kaylee said.

West Virginia was one of the few states with nothing on the books about owning exotic animals. Nevada, Idaho, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Wisconsin still don’t even have a partial ban, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Federal law only covers moving animals from state to state, the conference said.

The Mountain State won’t start snatching up all the banned Chinese mystery snails and flying foxes, either. People who own banned animals on the list can keep them if they buy a permit costing $60 to $160, depending on the animal. Once the ban is in place, however, no one can go buy new hyenas, African clawed frogs or other exotic animals. Accredited groups like zoos and veterinarians are exempted.

In the law, illegally owning an animal or recklessly letting it loose could earn a misdemeanor. It’s a felony if the animal hurts someone.

Lawmakers still have to approve the list or edit it this winter.

“(The earlier list) was such a complex and complete list that it almost outlawed everything,” said Alan Sironen, Zoological Association of America board member. “I think (the new list) is fine. It takes care of the dangerous species.”


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