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OLEX exotic animal debate set to continue next week

First they went forward. This week they went back a few steps. Expect another direction Monday as councillors debate the merits of an unusual animal auction held at the Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs.

Having last month assured the operator the auction could continue as it had, councillors this week drastically curtailed the types of animals eligible to be sold at the odd and unusual sale, which is scheduled to run next on Apr. 17. The decision was split, with Mayor Bill Strauss absent from the meeting; Monday night’s session promises to see more heated debate, especially if animal welfare groups attend, as they did at February’s meeting.

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 When the township passed a new animal control bylaw in 2006, however, it repealed that bylaw.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 changes, but neither company was notified, and the sale has continued ever since.

After a complaint saw the issue come to council Feb. 23, Tiger Paw owner Tim Height was told changes would be made in time to allow the next sale to go ahead as planned. However, the bylaw adopted Tuesday night limits the exemption to a small subset of animals, namely ungulates (hooved animals including horses, goats, pigs, bison, llamas, alpacas and camels) and tortoises. Gone from the list would be whole classes of animals, including primates (chimps, monkeys), marsupials (kangaroos), mustelids (otters, badgers) and edentates (anteaters, armadillos).

The list was reduced following input from the K-W Humane Society, said deputy clerk Val Hummel.

Public safety concerns, including the risk of spreading disease such as rabies, led the agency’s list of reasons for limiting what could be sold at the auction.

The changes are far greater than the modifications Height suggested to the township following last month’s meeting. He had already planned to put in place new safety rules and to step up the monitoring of animal welfare on sale days. As well, everyone attending the auction, including spectators, was to be registered, not just the buyers.

Height emphasized 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 nine years ago.
The sale is primarily for breeders and collectors, who know how to handle and care for the animals.
“This is not a pet shop for the general public,” he stressed.

However, both councillors Mark Bauman and Murray Martin argued the humane society concerns should take precedence, voting in favour of the tighter restrictions.

Coun. Sandy Shantz, on the other hand, pushed for the changes suggested by Height.

“This should continue. I believe the organization is well run,” she said.

Coun. Ruby Weber, who chaired the meeting, indicated support for Height’s proposal, but did not vote on the issue. At the next council meeting, Strauss will be in the chair, setting the stage for a split vote that may be decided by the mayor.

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