Coun. Paula Fletcher receives plenty of calls from her constituents in Ward 30. But she did a double take listening to one caller who described the scene on their street.
"There was a kangaroo on a leash. It was a part of a number of exotic animals being taken out and on display," Fletcher recounted.
"And I thought, 'That's just not how we can have animals treated in our community.'"
While kangaroos are now on the city's prohibited animals list, the Licensing and Standards Committee held a public meeting Wednesday on a report released last month recommending that the city add new "exotic animals" — cranes, flamingos and penguins — to the list.
Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker, a supporter of the move, said the city has to put limits on prospective owners of animals that require expertise.
The report will be passed on to city council and needs to be voted on before it is finalized.
"We protect people and we protect animals," De Baeremaeker said.
"I don't think someone can convince me that they can take good care of a penguin...if you're a big organization you might be able to do it. But if your name is Glenn and you have a garage or a shed, I don't think it's appropriate to have those animals there."
An animal on the prohibited list cannot be owned and taken into public areas, including schools and seniors' homes. The city must also judge the animal and its ownership based on six criteria:
- Status on a federal or provincial endangered or protected list.
- If the animal is poisonous or has venom.
- Level of care and welfare by its owner.
- Level of danger to the general public.
- Questions of impact on native ecosystem.
- Reviewing if the animal will create a public nuisance (noise levels, odour, significant waste).
De Baeremaeker cited the infamous case of the "Ikea Monkey" as an example of how previous rules governing exotic animals failed.
"If you want to have a monkey, or an ape or a gorilla, you have to prove to [the city] that it's a humane thing to do. I don't think most people can do that."
Animals in the classroom
The committee meeting heard from more a dozen speakers, many of whom represented nature centres and mobile live animal programs, which bring in animals to schools and senior-care centres as educational tools or companions.
Delivis Niedzialek, director of outreach for Little Ray's Reptile Zoo and Nature Centre, said there have been hundreds of schools across Ontario that have requested their services and believes it is a slippery slope towards adding more animals to the city's prohibited list.
"This is probably the first of many steps to be taken to limit animals in the city," Niedzialek said, adding that the bans could extend to "keeping chickens as pets or animals used in educational programming."
Ward 39 Coun. Jim Karygiannis said he has several daughters who are teachers and has heard of the positive impact of bringing animals into the classroom.
He said he's concerned educators have not been brought into the conversation.
"I think we need to step back, take a look at this again, reach out to the educational staff, reach out to people who deal with children on an everyday basis and see what they have to say," Karygiannis said.