ICYMI: Reptile Breeding Under Attack

Sep 6, 2017
The Reptile Report
by John Mack

The Reptile Report - For more than three decades, reptile care has been a labor of love for Reptiles by Mack. I have been proud since the company’s founding to work with the continuum of breeders, distributors, and others who care for pets that end up in three million American reptile keepers’ homes.

Regretfully, this continuum is under attack by activists across the country who see any reptile breeding and much of reptile ownership as immoral.

Three recent examples

On August 8, the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts banned the sales of every companion animal except for fish. Efforts by Petco, PetSmart, and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC) – the latter for which I serve as a Board Member and as Chair of the Herp Committee – to block the ban were unsuccessful. City officials claim that the ordinance will stop unethical breeders from supplying pets in Cambridge, but the fact is that the ban goes so far as to ban any non-rescue, non-shelter reptile from being provided by any for-profit entity.

A second example is in Washoe County, Nevada, which recently put on hold its effort to enact a three-tier “exotic” pet ownership regime. PIJAC opposed the measure because of the county’s considerations of pet limits and mandatory spay-neuter, as well as the difficulty of enforcement and concerns about how to categorize “exotic” pets. Local advocates continue to work with officials to ensure respect for pet ownership and public safety.

A similar concern related to pet ownership recently flared up in Arlington, Virginia. The County Board originally considered banning certain-sized snakes as well as hedgehogs and sugar gliders – mistakenly lumping these pets in with lions and truly “exotic” animals. Local advocates, animal experts, and veterinarians worked with County Board and animal control officials, and a new draft of the Board’s ordinance indicates that common pets are safe.

Growing threat that can be dealt with

Thankfully, the measures described above were in jurisdictions that require open and lengthy public debate before passage of ordinances. Industry leaders and local advocates were able to make their case, albeit unsuccessfully in Cambridge. Many local ordinances are passed with scant public notice, however, and the Cambridge ban is likely to be the template for renewed activist efforts against all pet ownership – not just traditional bans on cats and dogs.

There is a lot reptile breeders, distributors, and owners can do to stop local and county bans on ownership and sales, which are two sides of the same coin. Outreach to politicians and press before ordinances are considered builds relationships. Holding public events or participating in existing public events will help build credibility within your community. Participating early and often in the legislative and regulatory process will help your voice be an important one from the start of any ongoing debates.

A new and powerful tool may also be useful for making the case that those who raise reptiles are advocates for animal welfare. In late July, PIJAC and industry leaders unveiled voluntary uniform standards of care for small animal distributors and breeders. They include a variety of best practices that are already in existence through the Animal Welfare Act and individual leading companies, as well as additional tweaks to ensure the health of birds, small mammals, and reptiles.

Not all of the reptile standards are applicable to all breeders and distributors. Some, such as record-keeping for veterinarian, medication, emergency protocols, and end-of-life procedures, are applicable no matter the size and scope of one’s operation. Others, such as biosecurity and building security, are dependent upon each breeder’s and distributor’s needs for the reptiles under that individual’s care.

This one-stop resource for reptile professionals is important not just for the animals under your care, but also to help ensure credibility with legislators, the media, and the public.

Most reptile breeders are not full-time companion animal business people. You may not have the time, money, or other resources necessary to pro-actively engage your political and community leaders. Please feel free to rely on me and/or PIJAC as issues arise, whether or not you are a business partner of Reptiles by Mack or a member of PIJAC. And I strongly encourage incorporation of the reptile standards where appropriate.

Over three million U.S. homes house reptiles. Let’s all work together to ensure this important industry can continue to survive and thrive.

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