PAWS Magazine

Issue 36, Winter 1998

There Ought To Be a Law

In Washington State it is largely illegal to own native wild animals as pets. Strangely, the law does not extend to non-native wild (or "exotic") animals which are almost completely unregulated. Only a few cities and counties throughout the state have enacted laws to ban or regulate exotic pets, and the United States Department of Agriculture gets involved only if the animal is used for commercial purposes. As a result, lions, tigers, monkeys, snow leopards, bears, and reptiles are not uncommon pets in Washington State.

But the fact that it is often legal to own exotic animals does not mean that they make appropriate pets. On the contrary, not only can exotic animals pose safety and health hazards, but they have special dietary, housing, behavioral and social needs that pet owners usually do not understand and are unable provide. Although owners of exotic pets claim to love the animals in their care, more often than not their pets are housed inappropriately, suffer nutritionally, are frustrated by the inability to express natural behaviors, and lead socially sterile lives.

A good case in point is PJ, a capuchin monkey who has lived in a dental office in downtown Seattle for 20 years. Capuchin monkeys are intelligent and highly social animals who naturally live in groups of up to 20 individuals in the forests of South America. They spend the vast majority of their time in trees and lead busy and stimulating lives. But PJ spends her days in a barren Plexiglas box mounted on the wall of one of the office exam rooms watching patients having their teeth cleaned and listening to the whine of the dentist’s drill. She spends nights and weekends in another barren cage inside a storage closet across the hall from the office.

Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation (WRR), an accredited sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas has offered to integrate PJ into their capuchin colony. WRR has extensive experience rehabilitating once-solitary primates and can provide PJ with a natural enclosure and the company of other monkeys. But Dr. Patrick Fleege, PJ’s owner, claims that PJ is happy and healthy where she is and refuses to let her go to Texas.

Please contact Dr. Fleege and ask him to send PJ to the WRR sanctuary in Texas:

Dr. Patrick Fleege
Medical Dental Bldg.
509 Olive Way, #1024
Seattle, WA 98101
Tel: 206/622-6696
Fax: 206/292-8090

What the experts say:

"Capuchins housed singly develop emotional problems because, like humans, they require the presence of others of their kind." Virginia Landau, Ph.D., The Jane Goodall Institute

"We are very concerned about PJ’s living conditions. These conditions have little semblance to her natural environment and are not in PJ’s best interest." Roger Caras, President, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)

"I appreciate the dentist’s concerns. But as a primatologist who specializes in resocialization…I never fail to be in awe of the resiliency of these ex-pets. When given the opportunity, they recover." Carole Noon, Ph.D.

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