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The Issue: Many pet animals may soon be illegal to own in West Virginia under legislation pending in the state. Senate Bill 477 grants broad authority to the Department of Agriculture and Bureau for Public Health to ban possession of all species of animals that are not specifically defined as “domestic and livestock, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fresh water fish.” Because the definition of so-called “wild and exotic” animals is so broad and amorphous, it could encompass virtually any species, including animals that are commonly kept as pets. The Impact: While many states wishes to regulate animals that may pose a threat to public health or safety will list specific species of concern, SB 477 takes a far different approach. Providing that no person may “own, possess, breed, harbor, transport, release or have custody or control of a wild and exotic animal,” the bill then defines a wild and exotic animal to mean any animals other than those defined as domestic and livestock, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fresh water fish that “may be considered dangerous to humans, other animals or the environment.” Livestock means only captive animals that are raised solely for meat or animal by-products or as brood-stock (i.e. by definition, not pets). Domestic animals are those which “through extremely long association with humans, predominately as companions and pets, [have] been bred to a degree which has resulted in genetic changes affecting the temperament, color, conformation or other attributes of the species to an extent that makes them unique and distinguishable from wild individuals of their species.” This definition may be difficult to meet and, in any case, is highly subjective in nature. The Division of Natural Resources is charged with publishing a “comprehensive list” of domestic animals by rule, which means any species not on that list would immediately become illegal to own. The bill does allow persons who already own an animal on the banned species list to be grandfathered in under a permit process, but no further propagation would be allowed.

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