Could owning a reptile become illegal in Virginia?

Posted at 12:38 PM, Sep 20, 2012
and last updated 2012-09-20 12:38:49-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -The Virginia Dangerous Animals Initiative (DIA) held its first session Wednesday, bringing together more than thirty animal experts from around the state and the country.

Nearly a year after 50 exotic animals were let loose by a man in Zanesville, Ohio, the state of Virginia has convened a workgroup of animal experts to examine if more regulation is needed in the Commonwealth.

David K. Whitehurst is the Director of Wildlife Resources for the state and is the man responsible for organizing the group at the request of Governor McDonnell.

“We hope to establish what dangerous animals are and then establish some criteria around them, addressing what public safety issues exist,” Whitehurst told CBS 6.

Animals control experts say the events in Ohio last year are a wake up call to many around the country.

“I think Ohio caught some people unaware,” said Deborah Broughton, Dinwiddie County’s Chief Animal Control Officer.

“The key is resources – do we have enough to respond if something like that took place here,” Broughton added.

But not everyone is in favor of more regulations regarding the ownership of exotic pets.

“We are going to lose the opportunity to teach our kids,” said Dr. Kerri Cooper-Baily, a Richmond area veterinarian told.

Cooper-Baily attended the meeting as a member of the public, concerned that the work group may recommend classifying snakes as “dangerous animals,” potentially hindering the ability to privately own them.

She worries that will shut down education initiatives she helps run.

“If we don’t have them, we can’t touch them, we can’t feel them,” Dr. Cooper-Baily added.

She is aided in her fight by representatives of various reptile lobbying groups, who represent a $25 million a year industry in Virginia.

Legislation proposed earlier this year by delegates in the General Assembly would prohibit exotic animals in many cases. The legislation has been put on hold pending the recommendations of the DIA.

Other places at risk for closure include wildlife exhibits that fail to have proper licensing. Such facilities include the Richmond Metro Zoo.

The workgroup will continue to have meetings this fall before having a public meeting in mid-October.

The final decision on any new regulations rests with the General Assembly.