Payson’s got it in for lions and tigers and bears — not to mention pythons.
That’s the conclusion of Shannon Long, who pleaded in vain last week against the town’s new regulations on “exotic” animals.
The new rules would require the owners of a long list of unusual critters to get the written permission of the chief of police, who would have to make sure they’re adequately cared for.
“This really isn’t a public safety issue, complained Long, who runs Arizona Exotic Pets in Payson.
“No one in the U.S. has ever been killed by their neighbor’s escaped reptile,” he added. “A lot of people don’t understand that reptiles are very frightened of people.”
In fact, captive reptiles cause 1.5 deaths per year — but mostly that’s the result of rattlesnakes and such who bite foolish owners.
Captive elephants kill .81 Americans annually, big cats like lions kill one American annually and captive bears account for .125 deaths annually, according to statistics complied by the National Safety Council.
On the other hand, dogs kill 32 people every year, bees and wasps kill 66 and horses kill 214. That compares to the death toll from fireworks (11), lightning (47), falls from ladders (417), “contact with tap water” (26), motorcycle riding (3,369) and assaults with a firearm (12,000).
The odds you’ll get killed this year by a big cat like a lion or a tiger are about 1 in 302 million.
“Of course, your odds go up if you own a tiger,” Long conceded. But your neighbors ought to be perfectly safe.
Police Chief Don Engler said no particular problem had provoked the overhaul of the town’s exotic animal ordinance — although a fellow who several years ago took his 8-foot-long python for a walk in Green Valley Park had provoked alarm among some residents.
Engler rebutted rumors that had slithered about town recently that someone’s giant python had escaped and remained at large. Pythons aren’t poisonous, but can kill small animals by wrapping themselves around their hapless victims and squeezing the breath out of them.
“Nothing like that’s happened so far as I know,” said Engler.
The proposed ordinance would require anyone with a python longer than six feet to get a permit from the town.
Long protested that “the smallest snake that’s ever killed anyone was 11 feet long. I’ve got king snakes that are nine feet long, and they’re not a threat at all.”
Well, except to other snakes — which they crush by constriction and then swallow whole — even rattlesnakes.
Long pointed out that poisonous snakes — like rattlesnakes and vipers — are a whole different deal, but they’re regulated by state law, without need for additional local restrictions.
The town’ s ordinance would require residents to get the written permission of the police department to keep chimps, monkeys, alligators, crocodiles, caymen, raccoons, skunks, foxes, bears, bison, deer, elk, moose, sea mammals, poisonous reptiles, constrictors longer than six feet, wolf hybrids and any animal “that would require a standard of care and control greater than that required for customary household pets or domestic farm animals.”
The ordinance requires that any such animal receive adequate care and not pose a threat to “public health or safety.”
But Long protested the ordinance discriminates against all those critters.
“Everything needs special care, even dogs and cats. But you don’t have to have a special permit and the permission of the police chief to have one.”
But Mayor Kenny Evans said the town needs to regulate those exotic critters, despite Long’s reassuring statistics.
“To my knowledge, no one has ever died from sewage in the streets — but we still have an ordinance because of the anxiety that it causes people,” said Evans. “We need to exercise a higher standard of care with animals that can startle, regardless of whether they kill people or not.”
Towns that have suffered the effects of cholera epidemics might take issue with the first part of the mayor’s statement, but you sort of get his point.
“You have far more problems with dogs running loose,” said Long.
“But they have to be licensed,” replied the mayor.
“But you don’t have to get a special permit in order to own one. When you get a license for a dog, you’re not liable for an inspection or anything like that.”
“So your concern is with the cost?” asked Councilor Richard Croy.
“My concern is with every bit of it,” said Long.
In the end, the council made no suggested changes at the first reading of the new ordinance and no one else spoke on the issue.
The council will likely adopt the ordinance at its next meeting, unless a bunch of pythons stage a protest — or an elephant tramples a hapless citizen.
So in the meantime, watch your step.
Don’t sweat the captive bears: The odds one will get you amount to just 1 in 5 million, which includes the much higher risk run by the actual bear owners.
But you might keep an eye peeled for bees: Odds are 1 in 56,000 one of them little buggers will get you in the end. Still, best save your greatest care around gun owners. Odds one of them will kill you stand at 1 in 314.