Connecticut Post Staff


February 19, 2009

It’s natural, after an event like the unimaginable horror witnessed in Stamford this week, for people to demand new laws to prevent a similar incident from happening again.
Many times, it’s an emotional response, and the best course is to wait until tempers cool before taking any action. This is not one of those times. The General Assembly should pass a law making it illegal for private citizens to own so-called exotic animals as pets.

A statement issued Tuesday by state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Gina McCarthy said, in part: “I am recommending that the Legislature enact a law to ban the possession of large primates as pets in Connecticut.” We’d amend that to include all primates. All wild mammals, in fact, plus birds and reptiles. That will not be a popular position with many people, but, simply put: Wild animals are not made to be pets. Not only is it potentially harmful to humans, it’s bad for the animals.

This reaction, of course, is to the tragic incident Monday in which Charla Nash, a 55-year-old Stamford mother, was brutalized by her friend’s 200-pound pet chimpanzee, Travis. During the 12-minute assault, Nash suffered horrific injuries, including to her face. She remained in critical condition Wednesday.

Police shot and killed the chimp when it tried to get into a patrol car and attack an officer.

The thoughts, best wishes and prayers of the entire region go out to Nash and her family. We also pause to note how

traumatic this incident must have been, and continues to be, for the animal’s owner, Sandra Herold, who is not only coping with the tragedy of her friend, but the loss of her pet and companion of 14 years.

There’s no doubt that people who own exotic animals develop profound emotional attachments to them. But that does not change the fact that there is no justifiable reason why humans should own wild animals.

In a letter written to our sister newspaper, The Advocate of Stamford this week, evolutionary biology professor Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado explains that there is no such thing as a “domesticated” wild animal: “This is a complete misrepresentation of who he was. Domestication is an evolutionary process that results in animals such as our companion dogs and cats that undergo substantial behavioral, anatomical, physiological and genetic changes during the process.”

Not only is a wild animal/pet a potential threat to owners, it’s not the proper environment for the animal. Sanctuaries exist for wild animals that have been removed from their natural habitats. Keeping a wild animal poses a threat to neighbors, none of whom signed up to share a street with one, and, as this case illustrated, to police, who will be the ones called when something goes wrong.

According to news reports, the DEP allowed Herold and her husband to keep Travis without a permit, even after a state law was passed in 2004 requiring people to obtain approval to own a wild animal. Obviously, that was a tragic mistake. But room for error in human judgment should be removed from this subject. There is no compelling reason why the state should allow anyone to own a wild animal in the home. A law should be passed forbidding it.

We hope this incident inspires wild animal owners to seek out proper sanctuaries for their pets, as difficult as that decision might be. We also use it as an opportunity to remind those looking for a pet that there are scores of dogs and cats in animal shelters throughout the state waiting for humans to come get them. The reserves of love they have to bring into a home are literally endless. There is no need to look anywhere else for animal companionship.