By Kevin Werner, News Staff
The owners of a reptile zoo on Barton Street say they will take legal action to keep about 20 animals that the city says violate the animal control bylaw.
“They are forcing our hand to take legal action,” said Paul Goulet, founder and co-owner of Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo and Wildlife Centre, who appeared before the Sept. 4 planning committee meeting asking for an exemption to the bylaw.
Marty Hazel, senior director of parking and licensing, told members of the planning committee, the business, which opened in June, has been issued an order that it was in violation of the animal control bylaw.
“They are not meeting the provision of the bylaw,” said Hazell.
The facility, says Goulet, houses reptiles for education purposes, and also takes in animals that have been abandoned. In addition, it offers up temporary exhibits, with the current one called “Crocodiles of the World” that is in place until April 2014.
The facility houses such reptiles as a green anaconda, Burmese pythons, boa constrictors, iguanas, large snakes, and crocodiles. A number of the reptiles came from a Hamilton pet shop that was located in the downtown.
The animal control bylaw, approved by council in February 2012, prohibits pythons more than three.
The facility is a privately funded zoo, which also rescues animals and has an education outreach program.
Reptile facilities have been under more scrutiny after a 45-kilogram African rock python escaped from its glass enclosure in an apartment above a pet shop,Reptile Ocean, in Campbellton, New Brunswick, and killed two brothers, four years old and a six year old, in their sleep.
Hazell said city staff believes the facility does not meet the “temporary” requirement of the bylaw. The city order requires Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo to comply with the bylaw by October.
“We are a permanent facility that has a temporary display,” said Goulet.
Hazell acknowledged to politicians the “temporary” requirement could be “up for legal interpretation.”
Hamilton’s animal control bylaw does exempt such facilities as African Lion Safari, the Aviary in Westdale, and the Mountsberg Wildlife Centre.
He also admitted there was “some confusion” among city staff that provided the zoning amendment to the facility, but questioned issuing the licensing permit.
Florine Morrison, a Zoocheck Canada director, opposed the city providing the facility an exemption. She said it would set a dangerous precedent, allowing questionable animal facilities in the city.
“The current bylaw is reasonable,” she said. “An exemption would be difficult to enforce.”
Goulet, who also has a Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo in Ottawa, said he asked city staff about getting an exemption to the bylaw, prior to opening, but was told twice the facility didn’t need it. He said the reptiles housed in their Hamilton facility are allowed in Ottawa under that municipality’s animal control bylaw.
Goulet said staff at Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo are professionals, and have a number of years of experience working with animals. Goulet said the owners have invested about $250,000 in the Barton Street store at Stadium Mall, including a five-year lease.
ThreeOntarioministries are reviewing all municipal bylaws on animal control this fall in reaction to the two boys’ deaths, and whether any changes are required.
Politicians didn’t address Goulet’s request, except to approve his presentation.