Pet peeves

August 09, 2007

If you live in Baltimore and your preference in pets runs to mongooses, bears and kangaroos, then you'll be sorely disappointed with the city Health Department's new regulations as to which exotic pets you can keep in your home or backyard. But for those who like the distinction between being in a city and being on a farm or in the wild, the regulations are fair, balanced and welcome.

The roster of animals that are nurtured as pets has long expanded from dogs, cats, goldfish, parakeets and hamsters to include llamas, monkeys, snakes and all manner of furry, feathered, winged and slithery friends. That may be all well and good in areas where animals have lots of room to move around or where they are likely to come into contact only with people who know how to handle them.

In Baltimore County this week, a zoning official denied permission to a family in Essex to keep two pygmy goats in their backyard for lack of adequate space. Certainly, with the concentrated population of a city, it's essential to balance the desire of some to own unusual pets with the need to protect residents living close by from odors, disease and deadly bites or other dangers.

In fact, the skin of baby iguanas can harbor salmonella, and small children may be unaware that handling or petting certain animals can be harmful. Those are among the reasons Baltimore health officials decided to issue regulations to supplement the city's health code regarding unusual and exotic pets.

The rules, which go into effect in October, ban keeping as pets animals such as bears, bats, cattle, monkeys, mongooses, marsupials, ostriches, squirrels, large rodents, deer, sheep, most pigs, goats, undomesticated cats and dogs and venomous snakes and insects. While pets such as racing pigeons and honeybees are allowed, they are subject to restrictions on the number permitted and spaces where they should be confined. Those who would want to keep an otherwise prohibited animal, such as a scorpion, would have to tell authorities and also show that they are properly trained to handle it.

As with many things, the proof will be in the implementation. But the rules strike a reasonable balance between owners of unusual pets and their neighbors.

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