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Auction of exotic animals to continue at OLEX

Left in legal limbo, a twice-annual unusual animal auction will continue to be held at the Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs. This week’s council decision comes over protests from animal rights groups and staff recommendations against the practice.

Tiger Paw Exotics has been holding what it calls an odd and unusual animal auction at OLEX since 2001. The likes of monkeys, kangaroos, zebras and camels have gone up for bid.

Although many of the creatures are prohibited in the township, the organizations were granted an exemption under what was then the exotic pets bylaw. When the township passed a new animal control bylaw in 2006, however, it repealed that bylaw. The exemption lapsed with the changes, but neither company was notified, and the sale has continued ever since.

A complaint last fall from a Toronto resident brought the issue to Woolwich’s attention, deputy clerk Val Hummel said at Tuesday night’s council meeting, prompting the companies to apply for an exemption from the new bylaw.

After reviewing safety concerns, including the prospect of disease, staff advised council to turn down the OLEX request. Pleas from animal groups including World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) and Zoocheck Canada failed to sway councillors, however, who ultimately voted to put in motion the changes necessary to grant the exemption.

Council also assured the companies it would not interfere with the next auction, planned for Apr. 17, even if the changes were not formalized by that point.

In a statement following Tuesday’s council meeting, where she called on the township to reject the OLEX and Tiger Paw request, Melissa Matlow, programs officer with WSPA Canada, said Woolwich was violating its own rules in allowing the sale to continue.

“Woolwich council has been breaking its own bylaw since 2006 and is essentially saying that Tiger Paw can sell animals to people in other communities in Ontario, just not theirs. Council is putting the interests of Tiger Paw above the recommendations of their lawyers, their staff, animal welfare groups and nearly everyone that was asked for an opinion,” she said.

In addressing council, she said allowing the sale to continue contributes to a larger problem whereby animals are put at risk. She said she attended the sale last October and saw animals housed inhumanely, adding there was a public safety risk, as people were able to get close enough to animals to put fingers into cages.

But Tim Height, the owner of Tiger Paw Exotics, said there has never been a problem with the animals or public safety in all the time he has been organizing the sale, which started in the Niagara region in 1992 before moving to OLEX in 2001.

He warned that without an exemption for the St. Jacobs location, he would move the business elsewhere. “It’s not something that’s going to stop.”

The business argument won out, with Coun. Mark Bauman noting the township doesn’t have jurisdiction over the type of welfare issues raised by the animal rights groups.

However, councillors did win concessions for tighter rules, with the formal exemption to include a list of prohibited animals such as large cats, bears and similar carnivores. None of those animals have ever been including in the auction, but the township now wants that guarantee in writing.

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