Exotic Animals Ordinance Information

Washington County Department of Health and Human Services has drafted an exotic animals ordinance to ensure the safety of both people and animals. Following are answers to some questions you may have about the proposed ordinance.

What's the latest/what's next?
At the board work session on May 8, staff presented options for amendments to the original ordinance. The board directed staff to bring a proposed amendment to the June 5 board meeting. The amendments are:

  1. Change the implementation time of the ordinance from 30 to 90 days.
  2. Add language for an exemption: "A properly maintained zoological park or facility that is currently accredited or certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) or has submitted an application for accreditation or certification from the AZA and the AZA has not made a decision on accreditation or certification. If an application has been submitted, this exception is only valid for one year from the date the application is submitted. If accreditation or certification is denied or removed by the AZA at any time, this exemption shall not apply."

At the board meeting on June 5, the board will continue their deliberations on the ordinance. They may choose to adopt the original ordinance as is, reject it, or continue and direct staff to amend, with the first public hearing on the revised ordinance to take place on June 19. These dates are planned but are still considered tentative until the agendas are finalized.

What happened at the board meeting on April 17, 2018?
The board voted to continue until June 5, 2018. Staff will present amendment options at a work session in May. Those amendments could include changing the effective date from 30 to 90 days, and also adding an exemption for organizations accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

What happened at the board meeting on January 16, 2018?
Staff presented a report on the written testimonies received since the meeting in December. Staff recommended to the board to continue the ordinance until April 17. The board unanimously voted to continue until April 17 to allow staff to further investigate options and perhaps amend the ordinance.

What happened at the board meeting on December 19, 2017?
This was the first public hearing for the ordinance. The board heard testimony from many concerned citizens. The board decided to delay their review of the proposed ordinance until January. This will allow them more time to consider the testimony already provided. They also allowed written testimony through January 12, 2018, at 5 p.m.

Where will the ordinance apply?
The ordinance, if passed, will apply to unincorporated Washington County. Cities may opt in to the ordinance through an intergovernmental agreement with the County.

When will it go into effect?
The ordinance, if passed as is, will go into effect 30 days after the board approves it. If it passes with the amended version, that timeframe increases to 90 days. After that time, citizens may file a complaint. There is a process for addressing complaints, and we would work with keepers of exotic animals on a plan for them to come into compliance. We understand that moving or rehoming exotic animals takes some time.

What animals are you talking about?
An exotic animal is narrowly defined in the proposed ordinance. The five categories of exotic animals in the proposed ordinance are (1) non-native cats (except domestic cats), (2) non-native dogs (except domestic dogs), (3) non-native bears, (4) crocodiles and alligators, and (5) primates. The definition comes straight from Oregon law. In addition, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife regulates under what conditions people can keep other animals such as wolves and cougars. Indigenous animals are part of the natural Oregon landscape and provisions are made to house and/or rehabilitate them as necessary. This ordinance is intended to prevent the introduction or keeping of exotic species not normally found in the state of Oregon, such as lions, tigers, bears, monkeys and crocodiles.

Is there a grandfather clause?
No. While there may be exotic animals in Washington County, there is no grandfathering provision included in this proposed ordinance.

How will this ordinance be enforced?
As with other County code violations, the ordinance is complaint-driven. In other words, staff won’t drive around the county looking for exotic animals; someone will have to file a complaint for any action to be taken. Professional staff knowledgeable about the codes and laws that pertain to privacy rights and other relevant issues will investigate any complaints.

Are the County’s code enforcement officers trained to seize exotic animals?
The County employs professional staff who are knowledgeable about the risks and challenges associated with handling exotic animals. Having that knowledge will help ensure that the proper steps are taken and the appropriate tools are used if a seizure becomes necessary. We may also consult with outside agencies with relevant experience. Local law enforcement may be involved if needed to ensure safety of our staff, the public or the animals.

What will the County do if they seize an animal? Where will they keep it and what will become of it? Will you euthanize the animal? 
These are all questions that would have to be determined based on the circumstances of a specific situation. It is our goal to reach a reasonable resolution in any situation that involves potential code violations. Voluntary compliance with the code would prevent the need for enforcement action. Decisions about any necessary enforcement action would include a clear, safe and reasonable approach that ensures public safety and humane treatment of any animals involved. Euthanasia would always be a last resort and can most easily be avoided by voluntary compliance with the code by people who own exotic animals.