Napanee Town Council to consider proposed exotic animal bylaw

A captive lynx is shown nose to nose with a domestic kitten at Roaring Cat Retreat, Grand Bend, in April 2019. Image from Instagram.

In the years-long wake of the controversy surrounding a roadside zoo breeding big cats in a nearby municipality, Napanee joins communities across Ontario debating the need for municipal control of exotic animals.

A proposed exotic animal byaw that comes before Greater Napanee Council next week will differ significantly from the version previously presented at the Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023 Council meeting. The changes to the bylaw, which was originally proposed to manage and control the ownership of exotic animals, come on the heels of public feedback that characterized the proposal as too restrictive.

Town Council received a report for information and the proposed template for the bylaw at their Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023, meeting.

The initially proposed bylaw looked at three categories of animals: animals that pose a risk to human safety, animals that pose an invasive species risk if they escape, and animals with complex care needs that the average person may have difficulty providing.

However, according to Municipal Clerk Jessica Walters, “Based on the feedback received, we will be revising our list to just focus on that first category [animals that pose a risk to human safety].”

The original list of animals that the bylaw proposed to ban altogether included some surprising animals known for being popular pets, such as hedgehogs, parrots, iguanas, and ball pythons. “These exotic animals lists tend to be similar across municipalities,” explained Walters, “and I know Hastings County worked with the provincial OSPCA (Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) in creating their bylaw, among other agencies.”

Indeed, exotic animal bylaws are currently being considered by municipalities all over the province, spurred on by a controversy begun in 2020 that saw Hastings County take matters into its own hands when a roadside zoo that bred lions set up shop in Maynooth.

Federal and provincial legislation regulates the importing of exotic animals, the protection of endangered species, and the protection against animal cruelty. However, no province-wide legislation regulates the keeping of exotic animals as domestic pets in Ontario. It is up to the discretion of each municipality whether or how to restrict ownership. The authority to do so is granted under the Municipal Act, 2001.

Mark Drysdale kisses one of his “pets” at Roaring Cat Retreat, located at his former Grand Bend home in 2019. Image from Instagram.

So when Mark and Tammy Drysdale were all but driven from their home in Grand Bend by citizens who petitioned the local council opposing the couple’s right to keep and publicly display exotic animals in their neighbourhood, they simply moved to a municipality that had no such bylaw.

On August 18, 2021, the Municipality of Hastings Highlands passed its own exotic animal bylaw, which other municipalities, including Greater Napanee, have now used as a template for their own. Unfortunately, the bylaw didn’t stop four of the Drysdales’ lions from digging their way into a neighbouring enclosure on the property and killing and eating a mother tiger in July 2021. The Drysdales were, however, were charged with animal cruelty.

According to World Animal Protection, while Ontario restricts the ownership of native wild animals, the province’s laws do currently not address exotic wild animal ownership. Ontario is the only Canadian province that doesn’t legislate the ownership of exotic animals, such as lions, tigers, apes, and venomous reptiles, having delegated that responsibility to municipalities in 2001.

Online feedback collected by the town of Greater Napanee from Nov. 16 to Dec. 15, 2022, found that many Napanee residents were critical of the list of species prohibited by the proposed bylaw; around 45 per cent of respondents found it too restrictive. The feedback indicated there is general support for a bylaw that restricts ownership of animals that might pose a hazard to human well-being or that pose an invasive species risk. But there is less support for restricting ownership of animals that have high care needs, given that cruelty to animals is already regulated under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act. On the other hand, many (32 per cent of respondents) said they saw no need for a bylaw at all.

Online responses to inquiries by Kingstonist found much the same level of response. Additionally, some respondents stated that there is a need for a bylaw limiting the number of animals that can be kept at a property. One example given was breeders who keep hundreds of small breeding animals like rats and snakes in confined areas. 

A recent search of Kijiji (Canada’s largest classified advertising site with millions of live ads in a wide range of categories) found a number of exotic animals available to purchase in Napanee and the surrounding municipalities, with shipping available. This is despite the fact that Kijiji’s rules do not allow any ads that offer the shipment of animals: “Animals may only be sold locally so that the transactions can occur in person.” 

A Ball Python being sold near Napanee on Kijiji. Image from Kijiji.

These advertised animals included some that were originally listed on the template bylaw as prohibited, including ball pythons, iguanas and geckos.

Questioned about this type of situation, Walters said, “We don’t currently have a bylaw that limits the number of animals that are allowed to be kept (other than dogs), but we will review to see if snake breeding would be considered a commercial use with associated planning restrictions… Grandfathering clauses would apply to animals present on the day a bylaw is passed, not new animals bred after that day.”

The Town of Greater Napanee has been without an exotic animals bylaw since late 2015. In March 2021, Council passed a resolution directing staff to bring forward a new bylaw to regulate the keeping of exotic pets. Due to staff turnover, this was not brought forward until September 2022 and then, due to the timing of the election, was further deferred. 

The Jan. 10 staff report to Council indicated that, while there may be operational challenges related to re-introducing an exotic animal restriction, not doing so might also have serious implications. The keeping of dangerous animals as pets by untrained persons poses a potential health and safety risk to residents and a potential hazard to emergency service responders. 

Further, if approved, the proposed bylaw includes grandfathering clauses for any currently owned exotic animals within the community which would require owners to prove they can meet safety and housing standards for those animals. 

The Town obtained a legal review of the draft bylaw, which confirmed that the proposed grandfathering clauses would be sufficient to enforce any future noncompliance of the bylaw. 

The new version of the proposed bylaw has yet to be posted for review on the town website, but it will likely become available on Thursday, Jan 26, 2023, before it again comes before Council on Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2023.

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