Want a wild cat? Laws tame probability

Published: July 8, 2005  |  Source: miva.sctimes.com
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St. Augusta is the only city in the six-city metro area that does not have regulations banning or a strict permit process guiding ownership of wild animals.

Sartell, Sauk Rapids, St. Joseph and Waite Park all have ordinances that ban exotic animals. St. Cloud requires permits for wild animals, although the city has not given out any permits.

Area city officials want to prevent what happened in June, when a 10-year-old boy was attacked by a tiger and a lion in Little Falls. Russell Lala will be quadriplegic for the rest of his life after suffering a brain injury and severed spinal cord.

Lala was attacked when he and his father were visiting Chuck Mock, owner of 11 exotic cats and one bear. The tiger and lion have since been euthanized.

A new state law bans ownership of certain exotic pets, but allows current owners to keep their pets as long as they register them with local animal-control authorities.

“I don’t think people realize how dangerous they really could be,” said Lisa Tenter, who contracts with St. Cloud to provide emergency animal control. “I sure wouldn’t want people in my neighborhood owning them.”

She used to work at a veterinary clinic in the area and said she saw a handful of dangerous animals come in for treatment. She did not know if they lived within city limits or not.

“I’ve even seen alligators, wolves and I’ve seen the large boas — very, very large boas — and I’ve seen mountain lion-type cats,” she said.

St. Cloud Animal Control receives exotic animal complaints about once or twice a year, said Dave Popken, St. Cloud’s health director.

Two years ago a complaint came in about a person who owned a bobcat cub and sometimes brought it into a bar, Popken said. The animal was removed, he said.

City ordinances

St. Cloud does not specifically ban keeping predatory or wild animals, but a permit is required for exotic animals that could be harmful.

There are no valid permits in place in the city, Popken said.

“If someone came in with a tiger or bobcat, I would consider it a threat to citizens and I would not issue a permit,” Popken said.

The city’s ordinance includes the permitting process in case a business wanted to own exotic animals, he said.

Popken said he has turned down a half dozen requests to own such animals in recent years.

“We’re comfortable with controlling it in this manner,” Popken said.

The city is unique in the area for having a permitting approach to exotic animals.

“The city feels that it is necessary to regulate any kinds of dangers, potential hazards that could come into the community,”Sauk Rapids Police Chief Curt Gullickson said.

Wild animals

But having city ordinances does not mean lions and tigers and bobcats aren’t here.

Animal control officials recall a few times visitors have brought predatory cats into the city.

Last Thanksgiving, emergency responders found three tiger cubs and a 300-pound tiger in a trailer after the owners had an auto accident on Interstate Highway 94, Tenter said.

The cubs were taken to St. Cloud Hospital with the family — Tenter brought kennels for the animals — and the tiger’s trailer was towed and placed in a secured building owned by the towing company.

People at the hospital took pictures of the cubs, Tenter said. But just because they were cute does not mean they were not dangerous.

“I call them baby tigers, but they were very intimidating and people were afraid to go near them,” Tenter said. “They make noises that are pretty scary for a cub.”

The animals were used as part of a magic show and lived on an unlicensed wildlife farm near Underwood.

Nine tigers were recently seized from the farm after a lion escaped almost a week after Lala was attacked. The escaped cat was shot by a deputy sheriff.

Another time, a family staying at a local hotel a few years ago brought along a serval cat — an African cat with long legs and large ears that can grow to almost 40 pounds.

The cat was in the hotel’s stairwell when St. Cloud animal control official Rosie Deffinbaugh arrived, she said.

“I was quite scared of it at first, but when I brought it to the office one of the coworkers heard it purring,” Deffinbaugh said.

It was released to its owners when they left town, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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By Mackenzie Ryan
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