Rules for exotic pets would require permits for pigeons and pot-bellied pigs, but bears would be out

City takes aim at your iguana

February 06, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

Chickens are in. Roosters, ducks and other such fair-feathered fowl - out.

One beehive is OK, as are 50 pigeons and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs, albeit no more than 22 inches and 150 pounds.

But say goodbye to caiman and snakes and lizards over 5 feet long. And that favorite of urban city pets, green iguanas? Fine, so long as they are between 30 inches and 5 feet long.

And don't even think about getting a bear.

Such are the proposed regulations handed down from the city's Health Department on exotic and farm animals, a long-nebulous area in the city code.

The Health Department is allowing public comments on the proposed regulations for 30 days, through March 2.

The regulations would also require a one-time $80 permit fee for chickens, pigeons and Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs.

Health officials expect the most resistance to come from pigeon fanciers and iguana lovers. The new regulations would allow up to 50 pigeons per residence, a rule that could ruffle a few feathers.

"Yes, we're concerned," said Charles Ray, 60, president of the South Baltimore Social Club, part of the Baltimore Pigeon Fanciers Club.

Ray, who lives in Pasadena, says that most pigeon racers have anywhere from 65 to 200 birds. Though the sport is no longer as popular in the city as it once was, there are still old-timers who cling to it.

"If it's just something they're just throwing into the book ... then I don't think it's fair," he said. "I would like to know why."

Health Department officials say the proposal stemmed from residents' complaints about the noise and unsanitary conditions of various animals, and their own concerns about infectious diseases.

The regulations are the implementation of a City Council bill that passed and was signed into law last year.

"It's really important because we're seeing a growing number of persons in the city trying to harbor these types of animals," said Olivia Farrow, assistant commissioner for environmental health. "And we're really worried about the health of the animals themselves."

Previously, the city had no exotic- or farm-animal code. Instead, officials used zoning or nuisance violations to fine residents, a rather cumbersome task.

"This gives us a little more leverage, enforcement-wise," Farrow said.

Bob Anderson, the city's director of animal control, needs it.

Anderson has seen it all. His department responds to 30,000 calls a year, though exotic- or farm-animal calls number in the hundreds. Complaints include cooing pigeons, buzzing beehives and crowing roosters. More unusual ones include the two pigs living in a backyard in Northeast Baltimore last summer and the call from neighbors living next to a man who had nine sheep in Northwest Baltimore and was slaughtering them.

"There's never a dull moment," he said.

Then there's his most unusual discovery: the alligator found in a bathtub years ago. Alligators are banned under state law.

Anderson expects opposition from pigeon and iguana owners. The proposed regulations would ban green iguanas less than 30 inches long and more than 5 feet long.

Farrow said the smaller ones would be banned because often people buy iguanas unaware of how large they'll become. If they buy an adult iguana, they might have a clearer understanding of how big they can grow, she said.

Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, iguanas shed salmonella bacteria in their feces. Baby iguanas are more likely to crawl over people, creating a greater likelihood that they will be exposed to salmonella, Farrow said.

"Green iguanas are the most common lizard turned in to the shelter because people are not prepared for how big they get and how much work is involved in keeping them healthy," she said.

But the restrictions on snakes and iguanas seemed rather arbitrary to Brian O'Neill, owner of Wet Pet & Reptile Center in Essex. O'Neill said iguanas are a popular item in his shop. He said that people can have bigger types of iguanas that are friendly and smaller breeds that are much more dangerous, saying the same logic applies to snakes.

Corn snakes, for example, can get to be 6 feet long but are an inch or less in diameter, he said. On Thursday, he said, he sold a 6-foot-long and 7-foot-long Burmese python.

"It just seems ridiculous to me," he said of the regulations.

Health officials note that the regulations could change depending on citizen input.

For a full listing of the proposed regulations, go to Comments on the rules should be sent to Assistant Commissioner Olivia Farrow at Environmental Health, 210 Guilford Ave., second floor, Baltimore 21202, or by e-mail to

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