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HSUS Dangerous Animal Legislation 2013

US Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.
US Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.

By Andrew Wyatt

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has launched an aggressive campaign to ban the ownership of exotic animals at the state level. On the heels of Zanesville, where HSUS put intense pressure on Ohio’s Governor Kasich and Senator Balderson to pass a draconian new law that not only bans multiple species of reptiles, it further restricts many more, and can be changed easily without public input. Wayne Pacelle’s blog called the victory in Ohio, one of the “Biggest success stories of 2012”. HSUS has coined the catchphrase ‘Dangerous Wild Animal’ or DWA in order to impose onerous restrictions on the private keeping of these animals, including many species of reptiles, or to create outright bans on their ownership. HSUS has plans to export DWA legislation around the country.

HSUS has used exaggeration and inflammatory rhetoric in trying to paint a picture of pythons as “high maintenance deadly predators.” Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist for HSUS said, “Escaped pythons are springing out of toilets, attacking people in gardens and ambushing children playing in their yards.”. These outrageous statements are a veiled attempt to scare legislators and the public into passing unwarranted and unneeded legislation in knee-jerk fear of Dangerous Wild Animals on the attack.

Now they are aggressively attempting to introduce new DWA legislation in a number of states. Some of the states being targeted by the HSUS 2013 DWA legislative initiative are:

Dangerous Wild Animal Initiative 2013
Dangerous Wild Animal Initiative 2013

1. Illinois,

2. Indiana,

3. Missouri,

4. Nevada,

5. Virginia,

6. West Virginia, and

7. Wisconsin

Initiatives in Pennsylvania and South Carolina may be promoted as well. HSUS will attempt to pass this legislation in every state in which they are able to get a foothold.

The Herp Alliance seeks to activate herp societies and herp clubs across the battleground states of the Herp Nation, and rally them to organize and prepare to take action when the time is right. The Herp Alliance will provide the information and tools necessary for coordinated grass roots action. Herp Alliance’s experienced legislative experts ensure strong leadership on the ground, and a powerful focused message in the statehouse. We are appealing to the leaders of the clubs and societies to share news and information as events develop.

Working together we will employ a powerful plan of action. Together we can meet these threats posed out of ignorance and misinformation. Together we will defend the animals that are our passion and livelihoods. It is time to put differences to the side and get to work!

“There is no substitute for experience.” Stay tuned for more news as it happens on the Herp Alliance facebook page, the Herp Alliance blog, and the Herp Alliance web site

Send Questions to: info@usherp.org

“Working together for the Future of Herpetoculture”

HSUS: The Pacelle Propaganda Machine Hampers Progress For Animals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

This post was previously published on my personal blog, A Legal Perspective, on December 3, 2012.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) blogged today, lambasting Andrew Wyatt and U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) for opposing  U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-FL) animal rights driven House Resolution 511.  HR 511 seeks to amend title 18, United States Code (the “Lacey Act”), to prohibit the importation of nine species of constrictor snakes as injurious species.  These include the Burmese python, the reticulated python, the North African rock python, the South African rock python, the Boa constrictor, and three species of anaconda.

Andrew Wyatt preparing to testify before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs

Apparently, the reptile community, led by Andrew Wyatt, has struck a nerve with the $200 million plus per year animal rights legal behemoth, HSUS.  Pacelle’s angst at Wyatt is not particularly surprising.  Since co-founding the United States Association of Reptile Keepers in 2008, Wyatt has emerged victorious in more than two dozen state engagements defending the rights of herptile owners as well as multiple federal entanglements.  These victories have come on a shoestring budget and against HSUS’s powerhouse millions.  Wyatt is most certainly a bothersome thorn in Pacelle’s manicured paw, and one that will not go away.

Pacelle said today, “But the reptile lobby—yes, there is such a thing—has been thrashing its collective tail and saying how benign these snakes are and that cold weather will prevent the snakes from going much farther than the Everglades (I guess it’s no matter to these supposed snake “lovers” that the snakes will freeze to death).”

Pacelle’s comment is interesting for two reasons.  First, using HSUS’s own statistics, 17 people have been killed by large constrictors in the US since 1978.  HSUS further claims that there have been 1,111,768 large constrictors imported since 1977.  Using those figures alone, without factoring in the millions of large constrictors bred in captivity this country since 1978, it makes the risk of death from a large constrictor less than 0.01%.  Large constrictors may not be “benign,” but the risk of being killed by a vending machine, a clothes dryer, a sand hole, a shark attack, a dog or a bee are significantly higher than the statistical risk of being killed by a large constrictor.

Second, Pacelle seems to concede that the snakes will freeze to death if they travel north of the most southern tip of Florida.  HSUSclaims on its own web site about reptiles, “Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.”  As great a shock as it may come to HSUS, animals in the wild are not frolicking about making daisy chains and counting stars as they do in Disney movies.  Wild animals die of disease, injury, predation, starvation, and yes, from the elements of nature.

Clearly, Pacelle’s remark is intended only to inure sympathy from animal lovers who don’t truly understand the issue. HSUS has used similar rhetoric about dog breeders, showing a decided recalcitrance to distinguish between responsible breeders and puppy mills.  Responsible reptile owners and breeders do not want to see the suffering of any herptile, and they certainly don’t advocate releasing any captive reptiles into the wild.

Pacelle’s tantrum continues, “Somehow the snake lobby, in the form of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, has hoodwinked a number of Republican House members and apparently convinced them that this is a matter of “economic freedom.”

This is about economic freedom. HSUS does not have the right to deprive American citizens of their property interests and their livelihoods simply because Pacelle doesn’t agree with reptile ownership.  It must be incredibly empowering for one person to believe that his ideology should translate into law for every American citizen, but it is the duty of lawmakers to protect the interests of their constituents, no matter how much it upsets Mr. Pacelle.  The majority of people involved in true herpetoculture, the breeding and ownership of captive bred reptiles, care immensely about the health and welfare of the animals they keep.  (If Pacelle is truly concerned about the welfare of animals, perhaps he should revisit his endorsement of convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, who, for a monetary donation, now receives Pacelle’s endorsement.)

Pacelle speciously condemns U.S. Rep. Southerland for condoning the import of  “dangerous invasive species into the country for use as pets, even if they are creating ecological havoc, injuring and killing private citizens, and costing the nation millions of dollars in terms of containment activities.”  (When he hasn’t got facts, he embellishes.)  Notably, Pacelle provides no back up for his inflammatory and false rhetoric.  HSUS’s fall back plan is to continue to terrify the public about non existent threats in order to feather HSUS’s own legal nest.  (HSUS has conceded in its Motion to Intervene in Ohio that it has an economic interest in winning legislative engagements because doing so attracts more monetary donations.  I will be writing on that topic next.)  If Pacelle needs to succeed in state and federal legislatures in order to attract the hundreds of millions of dollars that pay his six figure salary, perhaps he should set his sights on those more dangerous predators, such as vending machines, clothes dryers and sand holes.

U.S. Representatives Fleming and Southerland, Dr. Brady Barr, Shawn Heflick, Colette Sutherland and Andrew Wyatt should be commended for bringing facts to the table regarding the threat of pythons in the Everglades and the economic impact of arbitrary and capricious government action.  The role of our representatives in Congress is to protect our rights from unnecessary and harmful legislation, not to ensure that Pacelle has enough “wins” to fund HSUS into perpetuity.

The Founding of the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.

1-USHA5By Erika Chen-Walsh

There have been excessive rumors flying on the internet about Andrew Wyatt resigning as president and Chief Executive Officer of USARK and the founding of the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc. (the “Herp Alliance”).

Wyatt was one of the founders of USARK and together, the USARK team enjoyed phenomenal success from 2008-2012. On a shoestring budget, USARK was able to do extraordinary things for reptile and amphibian keepers at the federal, state and local levels. Wyatt spearheaded a massive grass roots campaign to defeat federal HR669. S373, and HR2811 in 2009-2010. He also launched a successful federal case to remove five species of large constrictors from the Injurious Wildlife listing of the Lacey Act in 2008-2011. His team filed the Information Quality Challenge with USGS on the Constrictor Report in 2010, laying the groundwork for a federal lawsuit on the rule change issue. He commissioned the Georgetown Economic Services comprehensive assessment of the reptile/amphibian industry in 2011 and he participated in the defeat of anti-herpetoculture legislation in more than two dozen states. Perhaps most notably, Wyatt has put USARK on HSUS’s radar screen and made the reptile community a force with which to be reckoned.

Those successes with USARK were hard fought and hard won and although Wyatt was the main strategist and face of USARK during his tenure, those successes belong to every person who contributed ideas, time, resources, talent and money to the cause, including but not limited to every member of the USARK board and every member and volunteer of USARK.

After such a long and colorful history, leaving USARK could not have been an easy decision, and Wyatt wishes USARK continued success in the years to come.

Many members of the reptile community have come forward with strong opinions regarding Wyatt, USARK and the Herp Alliance. Bob Ashley and Brian Potter of NARBC have released a public statement throwing their support behind USARK and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (“PIJAC”) and criticizing Wyatt as being a divisive figure. Other prominent individuals have reached out to me personally and privately expressing concern over the impact on the industry.   Brian Potter has been a close and respected personal friend of mine and my experience with Bob Ashley is that he is an ethical leader in this industry.  I respect their opinions. In fact, I value them, and I take seriously their concerns about division in the community and the future of herpetoculture.

USARK has come forward with a bold plan for 2013 and has set forth their goals and alliances, and USARK board member, Dr. Warren Booth, has been generous in his communications with the community even while on vacation overseas, trying to assuage concerns about the change in leadership and to calm anxieties.

The goal of the Herp Alliance is not to further divide this community, but to provide additional voice to our numbers. We, too, can learn from the model of the Animal Rights Industry. Invariably, when legislation is introduced seeking to restrict the rights of animal owners, HSUS shows up alongside PETA, Born Free, and other animal rights organizations. Indeed, HSUS unashamedly admits to bringing others in from out of state to testify at their side. The sheer number of these groups that appear, give them multiple opportunities for testimony (both written and oral), multiple witnesses, and multiple bodies to call upon legislatures. That numerosity makes them appear to be a majority interest when often they are (as in Ohio), by far, the minority. These groups do not have identical goals, but they are able to find enough commonality to stand together toward a single purpose.

There is no reason that the reptile community, indeed the exotics community, cannot do the same thing.  In fact, we must.

Bob Ashley was correct when he said that the pet industry can help the reptile community. There are many situations in which our interests are perfectly aligned. And then there are issues of concern within the reptile community that are not related to the pet industry (such as large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids) and it would not make sense for the pet industry to be involved. The Herp Alliance is interested in vigorously defending the private right to responsibly keep all species of herpetofauna.

Similarly, it’s true that the interests of zoos and researchers are not always aligned with private keepers. However, the ability to keep species and to move them easily across state lines presents more commonality.

Commonality is what binds us and what will help the entire community – private breeders, large and small pet stores, researchers, educational institutions and zoos – to be able to continue to work with the animals that we all love and in which we are interested.

The Herp Alliance will work in tandem with any group that seeks common ground toward our common goals. We would welcome the opportunity to work alongside USARK or PIJAC in any engagement.

The Herp Alliance is in the process of finalizing the details of our 2013 Strategic Prospectus. Once it is completed, it will be available. Our Board of Directors will include breeders of large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids. Our financial statements will be public and we will provide significant transparency of our goals, actions, and finances.

Some goals of our 2013 road map include, but are not limited to:

Our number one goal in 2013 is to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the Constrictor Rule;

To establish a separate legal fund to enable the filing of lawsuits to challenge inappropriate legislation and bills where we have legal justification for doing so;

To continue to evaluate and oppose federal, state and local legislation adversely affecting the rights of responsible herpetoculturists;

To contribute to conservation efforts, with a focus on conservation aided by captive breeding programs; and

To work with zoos and research institutions on common issues.

The Death of HR 511

congressBy Andrew Wyatt

Today the 112th Congress came to a close, and with that HR511, aka “The Python Ban” died a quiet death. HR511 was a legislative version of the recent rule making by US Fish & Wildlife Service to add nine constrictor snakes to the Injurious Wildlife list of the Lacey Act. Where the rule making fell short by adding only the Burmese python and 3 other snakes, HR511 would have superseded the rule making adding all nine snakes to the Injurious list. Much to the chagrin of animal rights advocates, after two years and two congressional hearings, HR511 has finally been defeated.

Introduced in early 2011 by Congressman Tom Rooney (R-FL), HR511 languished with very little attention for about one year. In early 2012 the bill moved to a mark up hearing and was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee with two amendments that would require “knowingly violating” the law, and provide exemptions for certain shippers. Uncharacteristically, HR511 was held for legal review until September.

Upon its final release by the Judiciary Committee, HR511 was picked up by the House Natural Resources Committee for hearing. Andrew Wyatt was the first expert witness chosen to testify on behalf of herpetoculture by committee staff. Wyatt nominated Dr. Brady Barr of the National Geographic Society and Shawn Heflick of NatGeo WILD also be called as expert witnesses. PIJAC recommended Colette Sutherland to represent the pet industry.

On November 29th, 2012, Chairman John Flemming (R-LA) the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs held a full hearing. Wyatt used the new cold weather study by Jacobson et al, 2012 as the central argument demonstrating why pythons were unable to survive north of the southern tip of Florida. Heflick and Barr related their “boots on the ground” experience with pythons in the Everglades supporting the findings of Jacobson et al. Colette Sutherland gave a heartfelt depiction of the impact that unjust legislation would have on her family, business and other similar businesses. Wyatt reinforced that HR511, if passed, would have an economic impact of as much as $104 million annually.

Wyatt, Heflick and Barr were extremely effective in convincing the subcommittee that HR511 was based on fundamentally flawed science and would be a “job killer” in a time of economic hardship. With herpetoculture advocates now proactively dictating the narrative regarding the question of south florida pythons, the committee decided to discharge HR511 without a vote; thus curtailing all momentum from the bill.

Today HR511 died with the close of the 112th Congress.

Herp Nation Radio Network's Dan Krull interviews Andrew Wyatt about the Herp Alliance


From the Herp Nation web site:

The Herp Nation Radio Network’s Dan Krull talks with Andrew Wyatt about his resignation from USARK that was first reported to you here on HerpNation.com. Dan asks the questions the herp community wants answers to about Andrew’s departure, and also what the future holds for his new organization. Herp Nation has reached out to USARK and will bring you that information as soon as it becomes available. Listen now….


HSUS: Lying is a Thriving Vocation

“Those who are capable of tyranny are capable of perjury to sustain it.” ~ Lysander Spooner

On June 8, 2012, I attended the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) 4th Annual Animal Law Conference in Chicago. This is an all-day event with a series of speakers on animal law topics for which attorneys receive credit toward Illinois’ mandatory continuing legal education (CLE). Approximately forty attorneys attended and one of my law partners, David H. Hopkins, an avid gun dog enthusiast and breeder of English Springer Spaniels, moderated the segment on due process rights in animal law.

I am the Vice Chair of the DuPage County Bar Association Animal Law Committee, but one of the reasons I attended this CLE was because the second presentation on the agenda was “Wildlife Enforcement Case Study and Exotics After Zanesville.” The presenter was Debbie Leahy, Captive Wildlife Regulatory Specialist, HSUS, Chicago. I was actively involved in the opposition to SB 310 and came to know who the HSUS players in Ohio were. Debbie Leahy was not among them.

I did a little research on Leahy’s background after hearing her speak. Prior to joining HSUS, Leahy founded the animal rights group Illinois Animal Action, which she headed for eight years. She then joined PETA and lead their nationwide campaign against circuses and roadside zoos. PETA has bragged about Leahy that she “has dashed onto killing fields to disrupt pheasant hunts,” and “dressed as a giant rabbit to protest cruel animal tests.”

I was not able to find any record of her being on the bar in any state, nor does HSUS bill her as an attorney, so I am not sure why ISBA felt she was qualified to give a CLE presentation to Illinois lawyers, but I digress.

Perhaps it is because her background is not legal, but I was appalled at the inflammatory rhetoric she used in her presentation and by her multiple misstatements of fact and exaggerations. Clearly, Leahy felt she was pitching to a friendly audience, but the ease with which she misinformed was shocking, and Herp Alliance members should pay close attention, because Leahy spoke directly to HSUS’s strategy with respect to reptiles as well as other exotic animals.

HSUS has coined the catch phrase “DWA,” meaning Dangerous Wild Animals. Its list of “Species of Greatest Concern” includes: Big cats, small wild cats, bears, primates, wolves, venomous reptiles, large constrictor snakes, and alligators and crocodiles. HSUS’s written goal is to pass laws “limiting the possession of these animals to zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries (GFAS).” According to Leahy, “Exotic animals are in every nook and cranny of the country, in tiny pens and sheds, shut up in people’s basements and locked in bedrooms.” Her written presentation rejected even permits to possess exotic animals in favor of a total ban on ownership.

Leahy opened by gloating over the HSUS victory in Ohio in which she described the long fought battle with former Governor Strickland beginning in 2010 and over which HSUS finally prevailed. She glowed that she was pleased to report that Ohio is now a state “that bans wild animals as pets.” HSUS is thus conceding that SB 310 had nothing to do with Zanesville. It was the result of HSUS pressure and influence since 2010. For HSUS, Zanesville was the happy coincidence that pushed their ship over the finish line.

In discussing exotic animals, Leahy opined that large constrictor snakes are “high maintenance deadly predators.” She further stated that pythons and Boa constrictor are second only to big cats in human deaths. She said that there have been 17 human deaths since 1978 caused by deadly constrictor snakes nationwide. (According to HSUS itself, as of 2009 there were more than 13 million snakes living as pets in the United States.) According to Leahy, the problem with escaped large constrictors has reached the point where, “Escaped pythons are springing out of toilets, attacking people in gardens and ambushing children playing in their yards.”

Importantly, HSUS also testified in Ohio that there have been 17 human deaths caused by constrictor snakes since 1978. However, at both times HSUS made this statement, it failed to provide any support for it. Moreover, Leahy’s outrageous exaggerations about pythons “springing out of toilets” and accosting humans in their yards are false rhetoric designed to terrorize the public.

We must control this dialogue and present a true image of snakes in captivity. We cannot allow HSUS to perjure itself in support its tyrannical campaign to end reptile ownership.

Leahy provided an HSUS “Factsheet” to help summarize the immediate peril of “Illinois Incidents” dating back to 1997. Included in the HSUS list of incidents were two dead snakes (a 15′ Burmese python and a 7′ Boa constrictor) found frozen to death next to a fence at a truck stop and a 4′ albino Burmese python found sunning itself on the pavement outside of a Starbucks. In fact, notwithstanding HSUS’s outrageous allegations to the contrary, even their own “factsheet” lists only one injury in Illinois since 1997 from a reptile (the strangulation death of a 3 year old by his parents’ African rock python on August 29, 1999). One incident in fifteen years! This is a tragic fluke, not a problem. Bee stings cause more deaths than snakes.

Leahy then moved on to Illinois SB 3264, the controversial and painfully ill conceived bill introduced by Senator Heather Steans on February 1, 2012. HSUS was fully supportive of SB 3264′s provisions as it was written as well as later drafts, and has been working with Senator Steans on a promised revision this fall. Leahy admitted that HSUS is gearing up already for the coming legislative session and is gathering support for Steans from AZA and GFAS accredited sanctuaries as well as lining up the experts that they are planning to bring in to testify. In addition, she encouraged all supporters of SB 3264 to begin calling their state senators and representatives now to voice their support for this HSUS initiative. (Herp Alliance will issue an action alert for its members at the appropriate time to begin voicing our opposition if this comes to fruition.)

Leahy also revealed that HSUS has its eye on Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri, which she described as having “weak or non-existent laws.”

Leahy described three different times the “vigorous, vocal and obnoxious” opposition to “reasonable DWA legislation.” In fact, she had a slide in her PowerPoint presentation listing the vigorous, vocal and obnoxious opposition that included seven organizations. Second on the list was USARK, under the leadership of Andrew Wyatt (immediately after the Zoological Association of America). She described these groups as “industry interest groups and private owners represented by an umbrella organization.” Congratulations, Andrew Wyatt, you put the reptile community at the top of the list!

Differences in Institutional Goals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

This blog post was taken from a blog post on my personal blog, A Legal Perspective, that was originally posted on June 8, 2012

“To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence.”  ~ Sun Tzu
A certain level of divisiveness has arisen within the reptile community based on the different approaches taken by Andrew Wyatt and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (PIJAC).  These differences came fully into the spotlight in the wake of Ohio’s Senate Bill 310, which Governor Kasich signed into law on June 5, 2012.  Wyatt resoundingly condemned SB 310  PIJAC endorsed it (PIJAC Ohio_Press_Release) and Ohio Dangerous and Wild Animal Bill Becomes Law).  In the interest of full disclosure, please note at the outset that the author is the Vice President of the US Herpetoculture Alliance has no affiliation with PIJAC.

To understand the differences in approaches and positions taken by Wyatt and PIJAC, it is necessary to look behind the curtains.

PIJAC describes itself as “a non-profit trade association, advocating for the pet industry, pet owners, animals, and the environment. PIJAC represents the needs of the pet industry and those they serve, promotes responsible pet ownership and animal welfare, and fosters environmental stewardship.”  Its board of directors is heavily populated by executives from the big box pet stores and pet supply companies:  Central Garden & Pet, PetSmart, Petco, Pet World, Inc., etc.

PIJAC’s constituents are primarily big box stores and their customers – mostly domesticated animals – dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, aquarium fish, birds, and other pets that can be purchased through pet stores as well as in the private sector.  According to PIJAC President and CEO, Michael Canning, PIJAC spends more money on reptile legislation than it takes in in donations from reptile constituents.

Wyatt worked from 2008-2012 as the President and CEO of USARK before leaving that organization to form the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.  (the Herp Alliance).  The Herp Alliance  is a science and conservation based advocacy for herpetoculture; the non-traditional American agricultural pursuit of producing high quality captive bred reptiles & amphibians (herpetofauna).  The Herp Alliance endorses caging standards, sound husbandry, escape prevention protocols, and an integrated approach to vital conservation issues. The Herp Alliance will also focus on conservation, sponsoring in particular captive breeding programs that directly impact conservation of species.   The health of these animals, public safety, and maintaining ecological integrity are the Herp Alliance’s primary concerns.  Its board of directors will include reptile breeders and specialists, including those that work with crocodilians, venomous animals, large constrictors and varanids.  They are all part of the herpetoculture community.

The difference in institutional goals is a salient one.  The Herp Alliance focuses exclusively on high quality, captive bred reptile owners and breeders.  PIJAC must also cover the interests of dog and cat owners and breeders, including commercial breeders and pet stores, as well as rodents, fish, birds, and yes, reptiles, too.  At times, their institutional objectives may be aligned, but more often, they are at least somewhat divergent, and sometimes they are nearly inapposite.

The easiest way to understand the divergence is by way of analogy.  According to Andrew Wyatt, the Herp Alliance primarily represents the interests of owners and breeders that are akin to hobbyist dog breeders, the small, private breeders that focus on breeding high quality dogs.  These breeders are typically active within the dog fancy in showing or competing in obedience, hunting, lure coursing, or other dog sports.  Improving the breed is the primary goal as opposed to mass production.  Incident to the interests of these owners and breeders are the trades that support them, companies that manufacture reptile products or produce reptile foods, and veterinarians that provide care for reptiles.

According to Canning, PIJAC primarily represents large retail pet stores (and their interests), whose executives are prominent on the PIJAC board.  These are commercial enterprises whose focus is on high volume production and profitability.  Included in this definition are not just the stores themselves, but the manufacturers of all products supporting the $50 billion plus pet industry in this country: commercial pet breeders, commercial pet food manufacturers, the makers of leashes, crates, aquariums, feed, and grooming products, etc.

In terms of reptiles, this becomes a major difference.  Pet stores do not sell reptiles that are not commonly considered “pets.”  Pet stores do not sell large constrictor snakes such as Burmese and reticulated pythons, but private herpetoculturists often work with these animals.  Pet stores do not sell venomous reptiles, but private herpetoculturists breed them.  Pet stores do not sell monitor lizards and many other unusual species such as tortoises, crocodilians and agamas, but private herpteculturists do.  Zoological societies obtain the majority of their specimens from these herpetoculturists.  Zoos rarely purchase wild caught specimens of these kinds of animals, and many of these animals are threatened in their natural habitats due to spoliation of the environment.  The protection of herpetocultue is a conservation concern of no small consequence.

These distinctions are not value judgments on either organization.  These are the factual differences between the Herp Alliance and PIJAC that help to elucidate the differences in the approaches that they take and the motivations of the their respective boards of directors.  These distinctions form the foundation of the significant differences between Wyatt’s philosophies and PIJAC with respect to legislation.  They came to the fore in Ohio during the battle over SB 310 and illustrates why Wyatt and PIJAC took the opposite view of the outcome in Ohio.

In December 2011, Wyatt met with Senator Troy Balderson, the senator who sponsored SB 310.   He also met with the director of ODA, the director of ODNR, both of their staffs, and multiple other legislators regarding the inclusion of reptiles (which have never posed a public safety threat in Ohio) in what was already taking form as a huge, restrictive legislative thundercloud for exotic animals and to educate the administration on the impact to Ohio residents and businesses. PIJAC, also became interested in and around this time and they, too, began trying to influence the governor.

Senator Balderson made multiple promises to us during these meetings.  Balderson assured us that only crocodilians and venomous snakes would would fall under his permit system (no constrictors), and that the system would be favorable to industry and it would be “business as usual.”   He reversed on those promises.

On March 8, 2012, Balderson introduced SB 310, seeking to enact a sweeping law to establish requirements governing the possession of multiple species of animals, which would be designated as “dangerous wild animals” as well as multiple species of snakes which would be designated under the law as “restricted snakes.”  He reversed on his promise to omit constrictors.  He reversed on his promise to maintain “business as usual” for the reptile industry.   SB 310′s provisions with respect to snakes were so onerous and expensive that they would have served to be a de facto ban on the ownership of multiple species of constrictor snakes as well as venomous snakes.

Wyatt made the strategic decision to discontinue discussions with Balderson because at best, he lacked the political authority to negotiate, or, at worst, he was negotiating in extremely bad faith.  Wyatt also made the decision not to hire a lobbyist in Ohio.  At the time, Governor Kasich had made it common knowledge that two of his major issues for the legislative session were fracking and exotic animal legislation.  As a result, no lobbyist was willing to take a strong position in opposition to SB 310, knowing that it would attract the ire of the governor and that engaging in that course of action might later lead to disfavor on future bills for future clients.

PIJAC took a different approach.  PIJAC hired a local lobbyist named Bill Byers and, through Byers, continued to engage in discussions with Balderson as well as other members of the senate.

Something must be said about Byers.  March 27, 2012 was the first day of opponents’ testimony before the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.  Byers was there early to meet with Chairman Hite and commented publicly in the State House hallway that he had seen Wyatt with his “tattooed and pierced followers.”  He went on to denigrate Wyatt personally as well as the reptile constituents that were gathered at the State House to testify.  This is the lobbyist that took a fee to ostensibly represent the interests of reptile owners opposing SB 310.

Byers arranged for Canning to be the first witness to testify against SB 310.  In his opening remarks, Canning conceded that PIJAC was amenable to the permitting of venomous snakes as well as large constrictors.  PIJAC was also amenable to insurance requirements; they just wanted them to be lower. They wanted Boa constrictor removed from the restricted list (consistent with Balderson’s pre-SB 310 promise that they would not be included to begin with).

At the same hearing, Wyatt testified that he opposed the inclusion of any reptiles from SB 310. He stated  that the reptile industry generates approximately $30 million annually in the state of Ohio; that thousands make their livings or supplement their incomes by farming reptiles as a non-traditional agricultural pursuit; that a rational argument could not be made that working with any reptiles presented public safety risks, and that 90% of the impact of SB310 was directed at the reptile industry, hobbyists and pet owners.  He requested that all reptiles be removed from SB 310 and that administrative rule making authority to add new species be removed as well.

Wyatt’s position was that further negotiations with Balderson were fruitless because Balderson had already demonstrated that the promises he made in his Senate chambers evaporated once he got onto the Senate floor.  In any contest, you cannot cut and run at the opening volley. Agreeing to minor modifications to Balderson’s de facto ban constituted a loss to the reptile community, particularly because Balderson insisted on keeping an administrative rule making provision in SB 310 granted the director of agriculture unfettered discretion to add animals to the dangerous wild animals list and/or to the restricted snake list without legislative process.

PIJAC applauded the version of SB 310 that passed out of the Ohio Senate and commended Balderson personally.  (Click here.)

Wyatt condemned it.

Upon reflection, it’s easy to understand why PIJAC was happy with the Senate version of SB 310:  no pet store reptiles were affected by SB 310, and so it had no impact on PIJAC’s constituents.  (Although additional species could easily be added to SB 310 and would have the potential to affect even pet store reptiles.)

For the same reason, Wyatt was vehemently opposed to it:  it affected (and still affects) a substantial number of herpetoculturists.  The insurance required of venomous owners has not been found to exist.  Full legislative process was never restored to add additional species to the dangerous or restricted lists.  The permitting system is a slippery slope to which additional animals can easily be added, and now, due to the Lacey Act, people with Burmese pythons, African rock pythons, or yellow anacondas cannot legally take their animals across state lines.

In addition, another bill, not related to reptiles but very related to the pet industry, was introduced in Ohio in the same legislative session.  This is (ironically) SB 130.  SB 130 is a puppy mill bill that is being pushed hard by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). PIJAC is adamantly opposed to SB 130 because it will impact the commercial dog trade.  (Click here.)  SB 130 passed out of the Ohio Senate on February 1, 2012, more than a month before SB 310 was even introduced.  However, it has mysteriously managed not to be heard in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee and the session is now over.  At PIJAC’s behest, Byers was (and presumably still is) also lobbying in Ohio against SB 130.

While Wyatt, representing the reptile community’s interests in Ohio have  been zeroed in on legislation impacting reptiles, PIJAC’s efforts were diffused over multiple bases, both reptiles (whom Canning concedes are a financial loss to them) and puppy mill legislation (which will impact the businesses of PIJAC’s Board of Directors as well as PIJAC’s members and constituents).

This is not a criticism.  PIJAC is doing the work demanded by its members and constituents and that is exactly what it should be doing. Wyatt was doing the work demanded by his constituents and that is exactly what he should be doing.  If there were overlap of their members and constituents, the differing approaches might beg further consideration, but they do not overlap.  The reptile community’s interests will always necessarily be different than PIJAC’s.  It should therefore not be surprising that Canning’s approach and Wyatt’s approach are not congruent and may even be (as in Ohio) diametrically opposed.

These differences should not divide the reptile community.  Some members of the reptile community privately (and sometimes not so privately) think that venomous snakes should be legislated because one incident of careless management practices could result in backlash against the entire industry.  There is a kernel of truth to that fear.  However, statistically, that has so far not played out.

There are approximately 13 million reptiles kept as pets in the United States at this time and despite that number, there is still approximately only one death per year from reptiles.  This is not statistically significant.  Reptiles are still safer than dogs, automobiles, horses and ATVs.  As an industry, we must ask ourselves if we wish to offer ourselves up as a sacrificial lamb and consent to be legislated preemptively.  As an attorney, and speaking objectively, I believe that position puts reptile owners in very great peril.  And in those limited circumstances in which preemptive legislation is appropriate, it must be very narrowly defined and specific so that legislative process precludes further erosion of our fundamental rights of due process.

Reptile owners need to act cohesively.  The division in personalities and positions imperils the rights of all.  Make no mistake but that your rights to keep reptiles are under siege, not just by animal rights activists, but also by our own government.   The reptile community needs to find its footing and make its voice heard.  Loudly. Now.

Failure to comprehend fully the ramifications of  legislative initiatives will ensure that we will lose and that herpetoculture will die by a thousand cuts, piece by piece, with one permit here and one species there gone until there are none left.