By Jenny Neyman
When Joann Odd, of Ninilchik, discovered that exotic cats were outlawed in Alaska, she figured there was no good reason for the restriction. It was probably a silly oversight, she thought, an unintended byproduct of a protective game-management law written before exotic cats had become popular pets, prized for their wildcat appearances yet domestic pet personalities.
So she undertook a campaign to spread information about exotic cats in Alaska, in hope that the Board of Game will vote to allow the animals as pets in the state. As the board is set to meet this week in Anchorage, Odd is afraid her efforts will be for naught and exotic cats will remain illegal to possess in the state — and not just for no good reason, but because of outright incorrect ones.
Alaska has some of the tightest guidelines in the country regarding the import of game and exotic animals in order to protect native species. Wording regarding the possession of exotic animals is specific and restrictive, so a species needs to be purposefully placed on the “clean list” for it to be allowed.
Animals that are allowable to possess without a permit include domestic pets, like dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs and parakeets; barnyard-type animals, like horses, pigs, cattle, llamas, chickens and turkeys; and some more unusual critters, including nonvenimous reptiles, chimpanzees and one-hump camels. But game animals and hybrid game animals — a cross between a wild game animal and a domestic species — may not be possessed, imported or exported. The law is in particular a response to the issue of wolf hybrids and was written before most exotic cat breeds were even in existence. But since they weren’t specifically mentioned on the clean list, they aren’t allowed in Alaska.
In appearance, exotic cats, like bengals, Savannahs, chausies and charcals, still resemble the wild felines from which they were originally bred — Asian leopard cats, jungle cats and African wildcats, for example. They can range in size from 10 to 30 pounds or more, and their body structure, facial features and coats have shapes and markings reminiscent of leopards and other wildcats. In personality and behavior, owners say exotics are just like any domestic house cat.
“I tracked down some cats that have been here nine years, and there has not been one instance of any problems,” Odd said. “One of the game board members asked me, ‘How did all these cats get here knowing there is a law?’ The average person who read that regulation wouldn’t know they’re illegal. All it says is, ‘Any breed that’s listed’ — which would be cats — ‘that is a hybrid of a wild game animal.’ Now, who in their right mind would even consider that was their pet cat? Those people had no idea their cat was not legal here.”
Odd has spent months trying to share information about exotic cats. She started a Web site — www.savealaskacats.com — to coordinate with other exotic cat supporters in the state, involved The International Cat Association, which lists several exotic cat breeds as domestic, and co-authored a petition to the Board of Game to get the ban reversed. But it looks as though her efforts may be scratched, all because of a recommendation that the board turn down the petition to allow exotic cats in Alaska, prepared by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, that Odd says is based on incorrect information.
“Those people rely on what Fish and Game tells them about the issues,” Odd said. “But what they’ve told them about the issue are not valid arguments. It’s outright lies. But that’s all they’re going to see, except my five minutes of testimony I’m allowed to give.” Continue reading