Groups work to tighten NC exotic animal ownership laws

Groups work to tighten NC exotic animal ownership laws

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Animal welfare groups are fighting to change North Carolina laws that dictate the type of pets that residents can own.

The state is one of only five nationwide that does not have laws regarding exotic animals.

Reporter Dave Faherty investigated recent exotic animal attacks and asked welfare groups which animals would be on the endangered list if the law passes. 

It has been illegal to own exotic animals in Charlotte since 1989, but in more than half the counties in the state, there are no regulations. Even in Mecklenburg County, people have skirted the rules.

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Mark Balestra, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control director, said owning exotic animals can become a public health issue.

“You can get herpes B, tuberculosis, and you can get rabies from mammals," Balestra said.

The center has received a baboon, monkeys, albino cobras, Vietnamese pit vipers, monitor lizards and four mountain lions

Family pushes for exotic animal ban after loved one killed

In Wilkes County, a 400-pound Siberian tiger took the life of a 10-year-old boy.

Bertie Byers has never spoken publicly about the attack that killed her grandson, C.J. Eller.

She and C.J.'s aunt, Jamie Johnson, showed some of the last photos of C.J. before deputies said he was pulled under a fence and mauled by a tiger that was kept in a relative's back yard.

"(I) couldn't believe it. It just makes you numb. (I) couldn't believe something like that would happen," Byers said.

Regulations changed in Wilkes County after C.J.'s death 10 years ago.

But in other parts of the state, people can still own big cats.
"I want it banned. I mean, I don't believe in having pets like that because of things like this. I'm all for having it banned," Johnson said.
But deciding which animals to outlaw has caused controversy.
This summer, hundreds of people in Morganton signed a petition to allow Jon Freed to keep Tyra, his serval cat.

Related: Owners of serval cat fight to keep animal in Morganton home
"We know Tyra is exotic. We know that. But she is not a dangerous exotic animal," Freed said.
Even the mayor visited Tyra and agreed that the animal should be exempt from Morganton's ordinance. 
"This cat is tame. The cat is declawed. It's been living with this family since it was a kitty, and it is a pet," Mayor Mel Cohen said.

Groups propose bill to change exotic animal law

The Humane Society of the United States is a leading organization in the effort to ban exotic animals as pets.
Erica Geppi, state director of the Humane Society, said the group supported a recent bill to change the law.
"A lot of times I don't think people understand the full dangers of owning these animals. They're often obtained as babies. They are very cute. They are adorable. As they grow, captivity takes a serious toll on them," Geppi said.
The proposed bill allows current owners to keep their exotic pets but requires them to register the pets, put warning signs on their property and carry liability insurance.
The bill passed the House, but the Senate never took it up, which meant that exotic animal ownership continues.
C.J. Eller's aunt hopes it won't take another tragedy for lawmakers to finally act. 
"It sends a lot of emotions through you when (it's) someone you love and it happens to them," Johnson said.