Exotic animals are filed under tiers, and the county is eliminating the Animal Control Board. Those are just two of the big changes under approval by the Washoe Board of County Commissioners.
Changes to animal ordinances have been in the works for years, and the county wants residents to know the new rules for pet ownership in the county’s congested areas.
For example, it’s not allowed to own more than three dogs or seven cats without a permit from the county, and some exotics get a pass while others will require a permit.
The New Permit Process
Shyanne Schull, director of Washoe County Regional Animal Services, said that the changes are in part for efficiency and part for public health and safety reasons.
“We changed kennel and cattery systems in the way permits are administered,” she said. “A lot of people are not aware of that. We’ll get a complaint, and we’ll respond and the (animal owner) isn’t aware there’s a limit (on pet ownership) in the congested areas of Washoe County.”
You can still have more than three dogs and seven cats, but you’ll need a permit. The process involves drawing out kennels and cat enclosures on your property as part of the permit process, and Animal Services then notifies nearby neighbors that the legal limit of dogs, cats, or exotics has been surpassed.
“We also do an inspection of the property to ensure it complies with code,” Schull added.
Neighbors have the opportunity to contest the permit, and the permit applicant has to ensure that their animals are not going to be a nuisance.
Previously, the Animal Services Board would hear contested applications. The board would approve the permit, but this required public meetings, which included staffing, recording, and an attorney on hand to ensure open meeting law requirements are met.
That’s changing. The new ordinance means Animal Services makes the decision about permits.
“Animal Services (will) approve, deny, or revoke permits,” Schull added, saying that permits will be handled internally.
If denied, you can appeal to the county’s administrative hearing office; after that, you’ll have to go to court, something exotic animal owners are not happy with.
John Potash spoke during public comment. He said that the change gives too much power to Animal Services.
“Animal Services has a history of recommending denial of exotic animal permits to the (Animal Control Board),” he said, “sometimes using the vague and subjective language that’s in code — that should be removed — and sometimes with no just cause at all, even when the applicants have met all of the criteria outlined in code.”
Appealing to district court, he added, “comes with its own massive demands and challenges.”
Schull disagreed. She said that most permits get approved.
“Due process is built-in,” she explained.
County: Exotics Get Different Listings For Health, Public Safety Reasons
Exotic animals – everything from sugar gliders and macaques to pumas and wolves – are now listed under three tiers.
Tier 1 animals do not require a permit, but tiers 2 and 3 do. Schull said that the current code is ambiguous.
“We wanted to clarify the code and break out the animals by species and inherent danger (as well as) make it clear to the lay person,” she said. “The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) helped to establish the list.”
Schull cited the changes as necessary for public safety. Law enforcement discovered an alligator in somebody’s home when conducting a search warrant.
“A macaque monkey (also) caused a complaint,” she explained. “It jumped on a trampoline, got on the roof of the residence, a neighbor noticed it, and called. It ended up getting permitted, but the owner had an enclosure in her residence, (and) it was being exercised outside unsupervised.”
Another incident was more startling. Two cougars were found on a resident’s roof in Washoe Valley in 2008.
“The call came in as two large cats on the roof of a residence,” Schull explained. “These cats were not permitted, and the resident was keeping them in enclosures that were not adequate for this species of cat.
“One enclosure was inside of a garage for the male leopard, and the female was kept in the backyard in an enclosure with no top or climb-prohibitive cantilever top, according to the reports that we have on file.”
The cougars had to be tranquilized by NDOW to get them safely contained.
Schull said that there are only 10 permit holders for exotic animals in the county, but knowing where exotics are means law enforcement and animal enforcement officers are not taken by surprise in the case of an incident involving the animals.
“I think we have a lot of exotics in our community that we don’t even have a clue about,” Schull said. “We’re trying to come up with fair, articulate, and reasonable oversight over animals in our community. We want to ensure we are providing some safety nets in terms of liability.
“We have these in place for dangerous dogs. Why would we not have them with exotic animals?”
Potash also criticized the new tier system.
Tiers 2 and 3 permits are arduous and expensive, he said, and some animals, such as the capybara, don’t belong in the dangerous animals list. (The Daily Mail called the capybara “the friendliest creature on the planet.”)
Schull said that enforcement of the new ordinances is a complaint-driven process.
The ordinance was approved with changes at last week’s commission meeting. It goes up for a second and final approval at the commission’s Jan. 23, 2018 meeting.
The New Tiers for Exotic Animals
- Tier 1: animals usually found in pet stores. These do not require permits. Examples: Guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, gophers, domestic ferrets, sugar gliders, etc.
- Tier 2: animals that pose a moderate health, safety, or environmental risk. A permit is required. Examples: Constrictors 12 feet or longer and 30 pounds or greater, prairie dogs, servals, kinkajous, etc.
- Tier 3: animals that pose a significant health, safety, or environmental risk. A permit is required. Examples: marsupials, badgers, weasels, tigers, bears, wolves, hyenas, non-human primates, giraffes, magical ligers, and elephants.