The Stamford Advocate

By Ken Dixon and Brian Lockhart

HARTFORD — The leaders of the legislature’s Environment Committee on Friday promised to create legislation to ban private ownership of exotic animals, including chimps like the one that mauled a woman in Stamford
last month.

State Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, and state Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, co-chairmen of the committee, said though it is weeks past their mid-February deadline to raise bills, they will find a parliamentary maneuver to create penalties of up to a year in prison and $2,000 fines for violating the law.

Roy and Meyer made the announcement during a news conference with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Greenwich; Gina McCarthy, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection; and a
representative of the Humane Society.

A law passed in 2004 requires a Department of Environmental Protection permit to own exotic animals. But the DEP decided to exempt Travis, the chimpanzee shot to death by Stamford police last month after he mauled a woman visiting his owner.

The new legislation would ban exotic animals including primates, alligators, kangaroos, wolverines, hippopotami, rhinos, elephants and snakes, including pythons.

Exceptions would be made for those owned by zoos or scientific laboratories.

“The simple truth is wild animals belong in the wild, in their natural habitat or sanctuaries, not in suburban homes where they can do the kind of horrific damage that a chimpanzee did in Stamford very recently,” Blumenthal said. “A woman has been disfigured and probably disabled because we lack the kind of ban; a clear and specific
prohibition that could have prevented that terrible accident.”

The bill would also require veterinarians who treat potentially dangerous animals to notify the DEP within 24 hours and provide them with the location of the animal.

“The incident in Stamford provided all too graphic evidence that primates are wild animals, they’re not pets,” McCarthy said.

DEP spokesman Dennis Schain told The Advocate last month the agency allowed Sandra Herold to keep her 14-year-old chimp, which seriously injured Charla Nash, 55, Feb. 16. Nash remains hospitalized in the
Cleveland Clinic.

“Our view was they had this thing for so many years before the legislature got into this, we let them keep possession,” Schain said at the time, adding the department had never been told of any issues
involving the animal.

Herold and her late husband had owned Travis since the 1990s. He escaped their vehicle and tied up traffic in Stamford for a few hours in 2003.

Blumenthal said Friday there is no evidence that after the 2004 law was passed the DEP ever came up with standards for issuing permits to residents who wanted to keep exotic animals as pets.

“So there really is no permitting program right now,” Blumenthal said, adding he viewed the 2004 law as “defective” for even contemplating a permitting process for exotic pets.

“How could you decide whether to permit one chimp or another? It’s just about impossible,” Blumenthal said.

He said that if the bill becomes law, if animal owners don’t report they own dangerous animals, their neighbors will.

Travis is not the only exotic animal who made headlines in recent years in lower Fairfield County.

In 2001, Norwalk police mounted a day long search for a small pet kangaroo — Joey — who escaped from the backyard of his owner’s home at 2 Christy St.

That owner — Susan DeFrancesco — no longer lives at that address and could not be contacted for this story.

But DeFrancesco, a former wildlife worker, was comfortable enough with Joey’s behavior to bring him to Wolfpit Elementary School in June 2004 as part of a reading campaign.

Blumenthal said despite how tame Joey and other exotic pets might seem, the state must ban them and take them away from their current owners.

‘The whole point here is wild animals belong in the wild,” Blumenthal said. “When you say, ‘He is trained’ the answer is ‘no.’ As domesticated as they may seem, it is completely a surface appearance because by
nature they are wild.”

To report the potential illegal possession of wild animals, people may call the DEP at 860-424-3010..