SIOUX CITY | The recent apprehension of an illegal alligator might leave some wondering where the line is between pets that are and aren’t permitted in Sioux City limits.
According to city code section 7.01.010, “bears, wolves, wolf hybrid dogs, foxes, coyotes, lions, tigers, panthers, lynx, bobcats, elephants, bison, poisonous or venomous snakes, poisonous or venomous spiders, poisonous or venomous reptiles, and other poisonous or venomous animals, alligators, crocodiles, anacondas, pythons, boa constrictors, and piranhas” are considered illegal to possess in city limits.
In a separate section, pit bull terriers, or dogs with the appearance or characteristics of a pit bull terrier, are also listed as not allowed in city limits.
Getting ahold of some of these animals is simple, but they will be taken by animal control officers, often with the punishment of a hefty fine.
“You can buy all different things online, but their disclaimers are to know your laws before you get them,” said Cindy Rarrat, owner of Sioux City’s Animal Adoption and Rescue Center.
Factors that go into determining which animals are considered illegal are their ability to be tamed, wildness, and their capability to kill or inflict serious injury due to size or temperament, per city law.
In the 31 years that Rarrat has worked with the city, she has taken in two brown bears, two cougars, three alligators, foxes, wolves, wolf hybrid dogs, a Siberian tiger, bobcats, spiders, pythons and boas, and a coyote.
Snakes are the most common illegal pets obtained by the shelter.
“We get the pythons and boas on a regular basis,” Rarrat said.
In order to be prepared, the shelter is equipped with two exotic rooms that secure large animals and allow for them to be examined and medically cared for while they are contained.
“We have minimal contact with them for the safety of the people working here and for the animal,” Rarrat said.
For the large animals, such as the bears and tiger, they are sent to humane zoos like Popcorn Park near Newark, New Jersey. These places are designed for animals that come from neglectful pasts or previous owners who were unprepared to own them.
A common mistake that some people make, Rarrat said, is thinking that they can get a cute bear cub or tiger kitten and then pass it off to a zoo or one of these establishments once it’s full grown and unable to be cared for anymore.
Often, these animals are declawed or defanged and people-friendly, which means they can’t be taken to zoos where they can’t defend themselves against other animals. Humane zoos designed for animals like this are often full and it can be difficult to get a placement.
The best bet is to leave the exotic animals in the wild and rescue a dog or a cat from a shelter.
“A lot of people figure, ‘Well, if I can buy it online, it must be legal,’ but that’s not the case,” Rarrat said.