The Connecticut General Assembly
OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE RESEARCH
February 4, 1994 94-R-0193
FROM: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
RE: Potentially Dangerous Animals
You have requested possible legislative options for permitting ownership of potentially dangerous animals, such as wildcats.
State law generally bans possession of potentially dangerous animals and requires a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit to bring other wild animals into the state. Federal law imposes standards for the humane treatment of wild animals.
This memo outlines three legislative options, based on conversations with an animal breeders' organization, DEP, and the American Humane Society and a review of laws in several states. The first option would make minor changes in Connecticut's law to address several concerns raised by the breeders' organization. The second, based on the law in Georgia, would permit ownership under very limited circumstances. The third, based on Texas law, would generally permit ownership.
CGS § 26-40a generally prohibits possession of several types of potentially dangerous animals. These are the families felidae (lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, ocelots, jaguarundi cats, pumas, lynx, and bobcats); canidae (wolves and coyotes); and ursidae (black, brown, and grizzly bears). The prohibition does not apply to several types of institutions, including zoos and research facilities, or to people legally possessing such animals before May 23, 1983. The commissioner of environmental protection can seize an illegal animal and dispose of it. Violators are subject to a fine of up to $100 per offense.
CGS § 26-55 requires a DEP permit to import live fish, wild birds and quadrapeds, reptiles, and amphibians into the state. DEP can by regulation exempt zoos, nature centers, research laboratories, and academic institutions from this requirement. It can also issue permits under CGS § 26-54 for animal rehabilitators. DEP can totally prohibit importation, possession, or liberation of animal species that it believes pose a threat to people, crops, or established species.
Federal regulations (9 CFR 3.125 et seq.) establish standards for humane treatment of warm-blooded animals, other than domestic pets, primates, and marine mammals. The standards cover animal housing, health, and transportation. The housing standards apply to indoor and outdoor facilities and include provisions for food storage, waste disposal, ventilation, and drainage, as well as requiring enough space for the animals. The health standards include provisions for feeding, sanitation, veterinary care, and handling. The transportation standards govern cages and other containers used to ship animals, food and water requirements, and animal handling.
According to the American Humane Society and Concerned Owners of Pets, Animals, and Livestock (COPAL), a state organization of animal breeders, Connecticut has one of the most restrictive laws on ownership of wildlife in the country. For example, in most states hybrids such as dog/wolf crossbreeds are not subject to the restrictions that apply to potentially dangerous species while DEP policy subjects hybrids to the same restrictions as wild animals.
COPAL has recommended repeal or amendment of CGS §§ 26-40a, 26-54, and 26-55. It argues that the state should subject breeders and other prospective owners of potentially dangerous species to regulation to protect animal welfare and public safety, but that it should not ban possession outright. DEP and the American Humane Society believe the laws are appropriate. They believe few individuals have the skill and resources to rear potentially dangerous species and that if the law were changed to permit possession it would be difficult to enforce regulations governing animal welfare and public safety. Both COPAL and DEP expressed a willingness to try to find a compromise.
Minor Changes in Existing Law
While COPAL seeks a major change in the law, it also raises a number of specific points that could be addressed by less expansive legislation. As noted above, Connecticut treats all hybrids as potentially dangerous. COPAL states that some hybrids, such as Bengal cats, are nearly identical to domestic species. While DEP notes that some hybrids are more aggressive than domestic species, it is willing to modify its policy if it is persuaded that a hybrid does not pose a threat to people or other species. The legislature could either exclude certain hybrids from CGS § 26-40a or direct DEP to exclude nondangerous hybrids by regulation. The legislation could also allow DEP to establish minimum standards for hybrid ownership with regard to public safety and animal welfare. For example, the standards could require fencing, training for owners, and nutrition requirements. In order to avoid a fiscal impact, the legislation could authorize DEP to collect fees for performing its duties.
Another COPAL concern is that a number of DEP policies are unclear. For example, there are exceptions to CGS § 26-40a for certain institutions and for individuals who owned the wild animals before this section was adopted. The legislature could require DEP to adopt regulations more clearly defining these categories—for example, by establishing criteria for identifying research institutions.
Finally, COPAL asserts that DEP routinely consults with certain breeders in making decisions as to who can possess wild animals. These breeders have a potential conflict of interest in making their recommendations, in that the people seeking the DEP permits may become their competitors. It may be appropriate to require or encourage DEP to consult with neutral parties, such as zoos, in making its decisions.
Possession Under Tightly Limited Circumstances
The American Humane Society recommends that, if the state wishes to relax its wildlife possession laws, it look to Georgia as a model. Georgia's law (Ga. Rev. Stat. § 27-5-1 et seq., enclosed) allows importation, possession, or sale of wildlife species under very limited circumstances. The law allows the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to bar importation, possession, or sale that may result in:
1. harmful competition for existing wildlife;
2. introduction of a disease or pest harmful to wildlife;
3. difficulties in enforcement of wildlife laws; or
4. danger to human safety, wildlife, or other natural resources.
The law generally requires a license or permit to import, possess, or sell wildlife. Licenses are only available to people in the wholesale or retail wild animal business and those who exhibit wild animals. Permits are available to scientific and educational institutions. To obtain a license, the applicant must demonstrate that it has adequate facilities for the humane handling, care, and confinement of the animals and for ensuring public safety.
A licensee or permittee must carry liability insurance of $40,000 for each inherently dangerous animal it has up to a maximum of $500,0000. (This requirement does not apply to governmental entities.) Georgia's definition of inherently dangerous animals is generally broader that its counterpart in Connecticut. In addition to covering most of the species regulated by CGS § 26-40a, it also applies to such species as kangaroos and crocodiles, and several dangerous fish and snake species.
Licenses and permits are not transferable and can be suspended or revoked. The owner must keep the animals in DNR-approved facilities, maintain records, and allow DNR access to the records.
There are extensive requirements for both indoor and outdoor facilities, including temperature control, ventilation, lighting, and sanitation. Animals must be provided with adequate food, water, and veterinary care. Animals must be handled in a way that does not cause undue stress and must have adequate space. There are additional requirements regarding care in transit, dealing with the cages and vehicles used.
Georgia provides for the seizure of contraband wild animals and for seizure pursuant to an administrative order. It also regulates auctions of wild animals.
Possession Generally Permitted
If Connecticut wanted to impose fewer restrictions on wild animal ownership, it could model its law on Texas'. Texas does not require a permit to own most species of wild animals. It does require a permit to breed game animals and birds, fur-bearing animals, and alligators (Tex. Parks and Wildlife Code § 43.021 et seq., enclosed). This permit is subject to the restrictions imposed by the federal regulation described above. A separate permit is required to possess approximately 15 families and species (generally those banned in Connecticut under CGS § 26-40a). In addition to the conditions imposed by the propagation permit, it requires several measures to promote public safety. (We will forward the regulations specifying these requirements upon receipt.)