Highlands East council voted to move ahead with drafting an exotic animal bylaw to address the possibility of them in the municipality.
Bylaw enforcement officer, Kristen Boylan, brought the idea forward Jan. 19. She said it was a response to a recent controversy in the neighbouring Hastings Highlands, where the municipality lacked such a law to address a family bringing in a collection of lions and tigers to create a roadside safari experience.
Boylan said Ontario is the only Canadian province without exotic animals legislation. About half of Ontario municipalities have rules on them, but none within the County. She said with the dog bylaw due for an update, she decided they should address the matter.
“If we do not have a bylaw, there’s nothing to stop anyone from bringing in say, lion cubs, bears, pythons,” Boylan said. “No way of having any enforcement should we receive any complaints.”
Boylan also offered an option to have a unified bylaw including dogs and exotic pets, but deputy mayor Cec Ryall said it would make more sense to separate them.
“In the case of dogs, it’s pretty well defined,” Ryall said, noting the distinction between exotic and other unregulated animals such as domestic cats. “We’re going to licence exotic animals, but we’re not going to licence cats.”
As an example, Boylan cited a 2019 Huntsville bylaw, which she said reduced complaints there. Coun. Suzanne Partridge said she is in favour of prohibiting exotic pets but added she did not want to do so for canine hybrids – such as wolf or coyote hybrids – which are illegal in Huntsville. Huntsville’s bylaw bans all canines other than domesticated dogs.
“My last dog who just died in June was a hybrid and I wouldn’t have been allowed to have her and it was a sweetheart,” she said, adding it can be difficult to determine a hybrid without DNA testing. “It can’t just be the judgement of the bylaw control officer.”
Boylan replied she could research and bring forward information on hybrids.
Coun. Cam McKenzie said the municipality would need to figure out how to grandfather the rules for those who already have such pets.
“Snakes are more common than what most people realize,” McKenzie said. “To try and prohibit them is going to cause some issues … That is something we maybe want to think about before we do this.”