By Shereen Siewert
WAUSAU — Members of the city’s pubic health and safety committee will discuss a proposed ordinance change that would add foxes, sugar gliders, potbellied pigs, constrictor snakes and other wild animals to the list of prohibited pets in Wausau.
The issue, first discussed in December, had been slated for a vote in January but was rescheduled to Monday, Feb. 18.
The proposal is being drafted in response to a report of a fox that escaped in the city and was euthanized after biting a Community Service Officer. That incident led officials to consider restricting harboring animals that are normally considered “wild” and those that cannot be vaccinated against rabies, explained City Council President Lisa Rasmussen during the Dec. 17 meeting.
Assistant City Attorney Tara Alfonso told committee members the current ordinance bans bees, wasps, hornets, venomous snakes, farm animals, wolves, “mixed wolf dog creatures” and any animal raised fur fur-bearing purposes. Bees and chickens are allowed with a permit. Alfonso reviewed similar ordinances in other communities to come up with the proposed new rules, which would ban all constrictor snakes, alligators and crocodiles.
Sugar gliders, tiny members of the marsupial family that have emerged as popular household pets, would also be banned under the new rules. Initially, sugar gliders were listed as an exception to the list of banned pets, but Alderman Pat Peckham requested that exception be removed amid concerns that their secretions are poisonous. He referred to a letter from the U.S. Humane Society that referred to them as unsafe and unsuitable for pet owners.
The proposed ordinance empowers the police to impound banned pets, if they are discovered. Some residents are now worried that the city’s action will force them to give up or euthanize their pets.
Wausau resident Tanya Heuser told Wausau Pilot and Review in January that sugar gliders are loving animals that form a tight bond with their owners.
“Yes, they are high maintenance and owners don’t go into owning one without that understanding,” said Heuser, who owns a sugar glider and strongly opposes the proposed new rules.
The proposed changes would also impact domestic hybrid cat breeds. These hybrid cat breeds, such as the Savannah and Bengal, are bred to look exotic or wild, while having domestic temperaments and traits, with the same diet, housing, and care as domestic cats. Resident Holly Perrault submitted a letter to the committee urging them to exclude smaller wild cat species and wild-domestic cat hybrids from prohibition. In her letter, Perrault said those breeds are not life threatening and can be safely kept as pets.
Officials say they expect additional pet owners, especially residents who own constrictor snakes, to take exception to the proposal as well. The current ordinance bans large constrictor snakes over six feet in length, but the new rules would represent a complete ban. The U.S. Humane Society cautions against size restrictions because they can lead to underfeeding and other issues with snake-owners. Wausau Police Chief Ben Bliven said he would prefer a complete ban on such snakes as well.
In December, Alfonso said she was surprised no community members were present to present feedback on the proposal, which also includes a ban on monkeys, chimpanzees, ostriches, rhinoceroses and prairie dogs.
Ultimately, the committee opted to wait until the Jan. 21 meeting to vote on the proposal to allow more public comment and input before finalizing the new proposal. That meeting was reset due to a lack of a quorum.
Monday’s meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 407 Grant St., Wausau. The meeting is open to the public.