Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Exotic tales All the news that's fit to bark

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Spring offers bunches of flowers and bunches of news stories, too. In fact, there are often too many stories from which to choose. For this reason, this column will highlight an exotic idea, a study you don't need to lose sleep over, and a local contest.

Love them or hate them, creatures like snapping turtles or alligators are still part of the animal kingdom. And while many of us prefer to see them on film, or in a zoo, we still respect them and wish to protect their right to live in their natural habitats. Unfortunately, there are still individuals who believe they can care for animals, reptiles or snakes that they shouldn't. Last October's tragic shooting deaths in Ohio of tigers, bears and lions exemplifies the dangers of operating a private exotic animal park.

Some misguided people own exotic animals because they like the idea of collecting something unique. Others admire a creature and acquire it without understanding its size or the risk. Unfortunately, animals are the ones that all too often suffer -- abuse, neglect or death -- for human miscalculation.

We may assume that most of the problems that arise from keeping exotic animals happen abroad, but Manitoba has seen its share. In 2008, a Winnipegger was bitten by his pet Gaboon viper, known for having the highest venom yield of any venomous snake. Antivenom had to be rushed in from Ontario to save his life.

Governments create laws meant to protect man and beast. Some owners of exotic creatures will move to a locale where their pet is banned. They worry what will happen should their pet be discovered and the financial penalty given that the city fines dog owners $250 for not having a licence.

It's for this reason, that I loved the story recently published in the Free Press. It outlined an animal amnesty in Connecticut. Owners of illegal animals there were urged to voluntarily turn in their pets without penalty. The authorities received alligators, snapping turtles and pythons, all of which got proper homes.

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Last year, I wrote about a study that attempted to show that pet owners put themselves at risk by sleeping with their pets. While there was evidence showing zoonosis (disease transmitted from animal to humans) occurred between pet and owner, it didn't find proof that this occurred because of them sleeping together.

An Australian study, however, offers a different theory: sleeping with your pet may be better for you than sleeping with a human.

I say may be better, because the report simply mentions the format of the study, its author and the amount of respondents (13,000). I'd love to use the results to prove to my husband that my dog deserves to take up more than half our bed's space, but there were no links to the study so its significance could not be measured. Without it, the study should be taken with a grain of salt.

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Those last two stories were interesting tidbits, but this last story may be a call to action for kids and youth.

Doug Speirs, Winnipeg Free Press humour columnist, B.C Lions fan and buddy of mine, is set to do a local pet advocacy engagement. He'll moderate a Q &A at Rob Laidlaw's book launch. Laidlaw is an author of No Shelter Here and is the executive director of Zoocheck Canada. He has also authored three children's and young adult books. Laidlaw wants to raise awareness of animal cruelty to children and young adults.

This Winnipeg Humane Society-sponsored event is not only meant to showcase Laidlaw's books. The WHS is holding a contest (which began on April 3) called Dog Champion of the Year. The winner is the child or teen who can explain how he or she is a good pet advocate.

The victor will get a boxed set of Rob Laidlaw's books on animal advocacy and receive the award by HOT 103's Ace Burpee. The winner's story and picture will be on Ace Burpee's blog, the Hot 103 Facebook page and WHS website and blog.

Those interested in participating in the contest should submit a 250-400 word essay about how he or she has been an animal advocate to: The winner will be announced at 2 p.m., April 15, at McNally Robinson Booksellers.

For further information, go to:

On the same day, quilt aficionados and animal lovers are invited to the bookstore to participate in an auction of a lovely animal quilt. Proceeds will go to the WHS.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2012 C5

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