Large snakes at Hamilton reptile zoo must be gone by October, city says

Little Ray's says city staff told it twice that it didn't need an exemption to the city's pet ownership bylaw to house large snakes. The city says the snakes have to be gone by October.
Steve Featherstone of Little Ray's Reptile Zoo will appear before the city planning committee Wednesday to ask for an exemption to the responsible pet ownership bylaw. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Little Ray's Reptile Zoo has until October to remove its large pythons and any other animals that don't fit into the city's responsible pet ownership bylaw, a city official says.

The new facility at Barton Street East, which opened in June, is in violation of the bylaw, said Marty Hazell, director of parking and bylaw services. And there is an "active enforcement effort" against the zoo.

Little Ray's appeared before the city's planning committee on Wednesday asking for an exemption to the bylaw, which prohibits any pythons more than three feet.

Little Ray's investigated its legality before it opened, said Paul Goulet, founder of Little Ray's. On two occasions, city staff told Little Ray's that the zoo didn't need an exemption, he said. Otherwise, the company wouldn't have gone ahead with the Hamilton zoo.

The zoo complies with the city's zoning laws, but contravenes its licensing laws, Hazell told councillors on Wednesday. The bylaw does allow temporary displays of banned animals, and "temporary" is not defined. But Little Ray's does not appear to fit the criteria to be considered temporary, he said.

In his presentation to the committee, Goulet said he had numerous letters from animal rights agencies supporting Little Ray's facilities and rescue efforts.

Many of the animals at Little Ray's, Goulet said afterward, were already at a Hamilton pet store before they were brought to Little Ray's.

Little Ray's is a franchise aimed at animal education. Its staff train staff in other museums and zoos, Goulet said. It also offers traveling exhibits, such as the current "Crocodilians of the World" exhibit on display on Barton East.

Among the animals banned by the city's responsible pet ownership bylaw that Little Ray's has in its Barton Street East shop are:

  • A four-foot West African crocodile
  • An American alligator
  • A green anaconda
  • A reticulated python
  • A Burmese python

Little Ray's was given more time to comply with the bylaw so it could make its case to the committee, Hazell said. The committee received the presentation with no further action.

If the city digs in its heels on the issue, Goulet said he will fight it. He and Steve Featherstone, owner of the Hamilton zoo, have put too much effort and money into founding a zoo they were told was complaint.

"I don't think we have any choice unless somebody wants to cut me a cheque for $350,000."

Hazell told CBC Hamilton that he believes city staff were clear with Little Ray's.

"It's my understanding that staff were clear about the process," he said. "There is different information and we haven't talked to everyone involved."

Florine Morrison of Toronto's Zoocheck Canada presented to the committee speaking against the bylaw exemption, as did Sheryl Fink of Guelph of the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Both said granting one exemption could open the gates for more.