The future of an exotic-animal auction is uncertain after Woolwich council effectively pulled the rug out from under the operator of the sale.
Upholding last week’s committee-of-the-whole decision, councillors opted to severely limit the types of animals that can be sold at the odd and unusual auction run by Tiger Paw Exotics at the Ontario Livestock Exchange in St. Jacobs. The next event, scheduled for Apr. 17, is now in jeopardy.
Tiger Paw owner Tim Height said he would be getting legal advice before deciding on his next move. It’s too late to change the venue for the next sale, leaving cancellation as the only other option.
In the long term, he may have to take the auction to another municipality.
“We’re trying to decide whether to move the sale, or what to do there. We have to conform to this bylaw – more than likely we’ll move it.”
The last-minute scramble comes after council reversed course on previous assurances the sale could go ahead as usual – it’s been held twice a year at OLEX since 2001.
Although many of the creatures sold at the auction are prohibited in the township, the organizations were granted an exemption under what was then the exotic pets bylaw. When the township passed a new animal control bylaw in 2006, however, it repealed that bylaw. The exemption lapsed with changes, but neither company was notified, and the sale has continued ever since.
Where council originally backed business as usual at the sale, the bylaw approved in a split vote Monday night limits the exemption to a small subset of animals, namely ungulates (hooved animals including horses, goats, pigs, bison, llamas, alpacas and camels) and tortoises. Gone from the list would be whole classes of animals, including primates (chimps, monkeys), marsupials (kangaroos), mustelids (otters, badgers) and edentates (anteaters, armadillos).
Those limitations essentially eliminate Woolwich as a viable location for the sale.
Council’s rationale for opposing the auction stemmed only from a letter submitted by the K-W Humane Society, which did not send a representative to any of the three meetings addressing this issue in the last six weeks. Opposition from Mayor Bill Strauss and councillors Mark Bauman and Murray Martin scuppered the broader exemption. Councillors Sandy Shantz and Ruby Weber supported the venture.
If Arthur-based Tiger Paw takes the sale elsewhere, there will be an economic impact on OLEX.
For general manager Larry Witzel, there’s a worry this decision sets a precedent that could have an impact on an operation that deals with animals all the time.
“It’s unfortunate how this all played out. Things were blown way out of proportion – emotion has taken over,” he said, noting issues of animal welfare, admittedly a sore spot with some, fall outside of council’s purview.
“Where does this all stop?” he asked, noting one letter from the Humane Society derailed something that has worked fine for nine years.
The decision did please some of those in attendance, however, including Melissa Matlow of the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), who called on Woolwich to curtail the auction. The organization launched a successful campaign that blitzed councillors with e-mails and letters.