City to Little Ray's: Get rid of banned snakes...for now

Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo will remove all of its banned reptiles by Dec. 16, but its owner still has hope that he’ll be able to bring them back to Hamilton in the near future.
Steve Featherstone, owner of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo on Barton Street East, hopes the city will amend its responsible pet ownership bylaw to let him keep otherwise banned pythons and crocodiles. City councillors voted to examine it next year. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Little Ray’s Reptile Zoo will remove all of its banned reptiles by Dec. 16, but its owner still hopes he’ll be able to bring them back to Hamilton in the near future.

The new zoo on Barton Street East is busy shipping out its banned alligators, snakes and other reptiles to comply with city regulation. Next year, city councillors will look at amending the bylaw to accommodate places such as Little Ray’s.

That’s the best the zoo could hope for, said owner Steve Featherstone, who opened the facility in June.

“We basically wanted our opinions out there, and wanted our stories out there, and we wanted councillors to make an educated decision,” he said.

“We feel like we’ve made our point and the ball is in their court.”

The Little Ray’s dilemma started this summer. When establishing the educational facility, founder Paul Goulet said, city staff led him to believe the banned animals would be fine. Then the city’s animal control office said Little Ray’s would have to apply for an exemption to the bylaw.

Goulet and Featherstone appealed to the city’s planning committee, but Little Ray’s was given only a deadline to comply with the bylaw. And it’s doing that, Goulet said.

In February, the planning committee will look at identifying criteria and processes for considering amendments to the bylaw that would allow special facilities such as Little Ray’s to keep banned animals.

Little Ray’s helps the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals identify and collect exotic animals, chief inspector Connie Mallory told the city's general issues committee Wednesday.

Most recently, Little Ray’s helped fetch a 900-pound alligator in Welland.

That means Little Ray’s makes the community safer, said Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4, who moved the motion to examine the bylaw.

“The bylaw is to protect the public, not eliminate layers in place to protect the public,” he said.

Banned animals exist in Hamilton already. In the last three months, Hamilton residents have given Featherstone 45 giant snakes, reptiles, spiders and crocodiles, many of them unwanted pets. Twenty-one of them are banned in Hamilton.

Coun. Brian McHattie worries that the presence of Little Ray’s — and kids interacting with reptiles there — actually contributes to the unwanted snake phenomenon.

“A lot of this perpetuates the reptile trade as kids see snakes and think ‘boy, I’d like one of those snakes in my house,’” he said.

He also worries about the safety of the facility, particularly after an escaped African rock python killed two New Brunswick boys earlier this year.

The city adopted its responsible pet ownership bylaw in 2012, a few months before Featherstone opened his Little Ray's location.


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