Reston, VA

Fairfax County’s Board of Supervisors wants to address some confusion around exotic animals.

The board is looking to refresh its animal control code with several changes to resolve discrepancies with other policies and laws.

One change would allow people with valid permits from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) — like wildlife rehabilitators and exhibitors — to own wildlife.

Since the current code prohibits people from possessing wild or exotic animals, “DGIF has considered revoking permits issued to County residents because they do not comply with the local ordinance,” according to county documents. If approved, the proposal would clean up the conflicting rules.

The county documents note that DGIF oversees the county’s roughly 50 permit holders, ensuring that the housing and care conditions for the animals are appropriate.

Another clarification would alter the definition of “exotic or wild” animals and create a list of exceptions. The proposal comes more than a year after Fairfax County officials decided to legalize chinchillas, hedgehogs and hermit crabs as pets.

“[The current] definition has generated much confusion and required interpretation from staff about exactly what sorts of animals are classified as wild or exotic and thus prohibited in the County,” according to the county documents.

Under the proposed changes, the following animals would not be considered exotic animals as long as they are bred and haven’t been in the wilderness:

  • chinchillas
  • guinea pigs
  • hamsters
  • rats
  • mice
  • gerbils
  • rabbits
  • ferrets
  • hedgehogs
  • birds

Additionally, the list of exceptions would also include non-venomous reptiles and amphibians that are not crocodilians.

According to the county, the proposed changes would also:

  • add exemptions to the rabies vaccination requirement
  • add more details on confining animals suspected of being rabid
  • give animal control officers discretion to charge owners of unrestricted or unvaccinated dogs
  • require traveling animal exhibitors to have current certificates of health for each animal exhibited
  • remove the “impractical” requirement to inspect traveling animal exhibitions

The proposal would also clean up references to now-defunct programs and services, including the county’s oral rabies vaccination program and euthanasia of healthy wildlife brought to the shelter.

“The Department of Animal Sheltering believes such euthanasia runs counter to its mission and negatively affects the emotional and psychological well-being of shelter staff,” county documents say, adding that private companies offer the service to residents.

The board approved Tuesday to hold a public hearing on July 14 on the proposed code changes.

Photo by Javier Virues-Ortega on Unsplash

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