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Exotic Pet Has Health Board Seeking Regulations

Pot-bellied pig near High School prompts town to place restrictions on the books.

For most people, a pot-bellied pig is hardly an exotic pet: they're really cute and smart. 

But it is an animal that is not your average pet. And when a resident near the High School who owns the porker native to Vietnam wanted to know if the town would allow it, the Board of Health discovered that it didn't have the regulations to say one way or another if it was

For that reason, the Belmont Board of Health has drawn up a draft bylaw that will place restrictions on residents who have a hankering to raise exotic pets, which is a species which is non-indigenous to the area.

"We want to have something as people get more exotic" in the pets they own, said Board Chairman David Alper.

"It's a way to protect ourselves," said Board Member Donna David.

Alper said while no one the town knows of has any lions or tigers or bears, that is not to say that animals and reptiles are not part of the town's makeup. Belmont's only registered horse that was stabled near Waverley Square left only a year ago. In addition, the town has been home to llamas, an albino boa constrictor and other pets that only an owner could love. In  ten-foot snake was run over on Common Street. 

Not that animals are not allowed in the town. There is a herd of sheep and goats on Weeks Meadow just off Somerset Road on Belmont Hill, a collaboration with Habitat and a breeder of Border collies. In addition, bees are kept on the former Sergi's Farm and on Winn Street and there are a number of chicken coops around town. Each of those are regarded as 'agriculture' and protected as long as the population doesn't get too large.

And while the issue with the pig has been settled – it's being allowed to stay in Belmont – the Health Board wanted to get "a preemptive strike" on the growing trend of "fad" pets and people who decide to own them

"It crops up from time to time so we should have something on the books," said board member Robert Eisendrath.

"We just don't know how to handle them," said David.

Today, a low estimate of 15,000 people in the US own exotic pets that range from snakes and other reptiles, monkeys, chimps, bears and tigers. And without regulations in place, communities in Ohio and Connecticut have found themselves in situations where wild animals can get loose or turn on humans.

The state already has licensing regulation that requires a resident to be licensed to raise or breed them.

And existing zoning requirements on sufficient square footage needed to house a pet like a horse or larger animal has limited what can stay in town, said Alper. 

"But there are smaller pets that we need to be aware of, from a pot-bellied pig or snakes and even monkeys," said Alper.

The exotic animal regulations have been presented to town counsel and will be discuss at the Board's next meeting at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 29.

Kimberly Becker February 28, 2012 at 12:02 PM
I am very unhappy to hear about yet another board in Belmont restricting our rights unnecessarily. I will be attending this meeting to hear what they are planning. What harm could a pot belly pig do to anyone?
David Alper February 28, 2012 at 03:29 PM
A main charge of the Board of Health is to insure the health of all who live in Town. And "all" includes the pets that are part of the households in our community. Animals come with specific needs, unique behaviors and unusual health requirements and risks. What harm could a pot bellied pig do to anyone? Well, a pig can carry rabies, and therefore needs to be vaccinated as any other mammal - type pet. The Health Dept needs to insure that an owner knows this and that they are compliant, for the sake of the pet and those that live here. Pot bellied pigs can be territorial and occassionally aggressive - the Town needs to be aware that the pig, or other pets, live here in case an incident occurs. Farm animal - type pets (goats, chickens, etc) also have unique needs (coops, minimum amount of free space, etc) and for the well being of the animal the owner is educated in these needs and the conditions are checked on a regular basis by our animal control officer. One must also be conscious of the folks living in Town without such pets, and their rights, including the right to be safe. The Health Dept needs to be aware of what is living in Town in case of escape or abandonment so that we can respond to sightings and assist in capture. Nothing in the regulations is intended to restrict anyone's rights - rather they are to facilitate bringing an exotic animal into Belmont safely, in a healthful manner, and with respect for the entire population of our Town.
Melissa Smith February 29, 2012 at 05:53 AM
When bans are called for, that is an absolute disgrace and restriction of our rights. I have no problem in letting the town know what I have, AS LONG AS THAT TOWN DOESN'T DECIDE TO TURN AROUND AND BAN ME FROM DOING SO.
David Chase February 29, 2012 at 01:14 PM
I'm of two minds -- on the one hand, these rules are often arbitrary and intended more to preserve a town's "image" more than anything else (some towns, no chickens, because those are "farm animals"). Our rules aren't entirely rational -- large dogs need space and can be a threat, too, but we allow all dogs because that's what we've always done. However, I grew up in Florida (the state more overrun by nuisance exotic species than any other, I think). There's a whole lot of stuff that should have been banned than wasn't (and some, still isn't). We're just "lucky" that it gets cold enough here -- it's been predicted that the big snakes in the Everglades may survive as far north as the Carolinas. I also grew up in what were (for a while) "the sticks", and I can confirm that you don't want a rooster anywhere near your bedroom (say, within a quarter-mile), and that non-male livestock that gets loose is not much of a hazard to people, but it can be heck on shrubbery. (Billy goats can be an incredible nuisance, and bulls are an outright hazard.) On the other hand, we moved into the house across the street from "the horse" (Ebony, then Hermes, then Charm) and those horses were all excellent neighbors; much better than your average dog (dogs get loose, dogs leave surprises in your yard, dogs bark), and unlike outdoor cats, did not dine on the local bird population.

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