By The Frederick News-Post, Md.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

March 22--The U.S. Humane Society's push to effectively legislate out of existence three small Maryland zoos -- including one here in Frederick County, the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve & Zoo near Thurmont -- has, fortunately, failed.

While we understand the society's focus on these small operations is driven by caring for the health and well-being of animals at these facilities -- particularly Catoctin zoo, Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun and Tri-State Zoo in Cumberland, because they house larger, more exotic bears, big cats and primates -- the legislation originally crafted and filed by Delegate Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat, could have been too onerous.

At the very least, the legislation would have forced the zoos to scale back their programs, and placed stringent restrictions on continuing to display those large cats, bears and primates.

But a balance has been struck. Luedtke's bill -- the kind of all-or-nothing legislation that seems to be favored by Montgomery County lawmakers -- was amended in committee.

Rather than batter or threaten these three zoos into compliance with unsustainable standards or extinction, the House Environmental Matters Committee chose rather a softened bill, shepherded through by Delegate Patrick Hogan, a Frederick Republican.

As reporter Bethany Rodgers' story on Wednesday explained it, as amended, the legislation would require zoos to hold liability insurance policies of at least $1 million, employ a full-time director and have a staff member trained in caring for the species at the establishment. The zoos would also need to develop an animal relocation plan in case their facilities close, and maintain a disease prevention strategy.

We're sure the Humane Society will argue it wasn't trying to end these zoos' operations, but it's hard to draw any other conclusion when the society produces a report with the melodramatic title "Maryland's Fatal Attractions." However, reading through that report with an objective eye, we have to agree that enough troubling lapses are identified to require continued scrutiny and, perhaps, stronger oversight. We were less troubled by the fixable problems at Catoctin zoo than what Humane Society inspectors found at Plumpton Park and Tri-State.

Animals such as primates do require more specialized care. The public needs to be reassured that when they visit, as many children do, they are safe from danger.

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To ensure that, we'd like to see more cooperation on a comprehensive in-state suite of regulations, inspection schedules and accreditation that would allow these small Maryland businesses to continue to operate, but within reasonable restrictions, better inspections and more effective enforcement, balancing the needs of the business with public safety and adequate health and care for the animals.

In the meantime, the Humane Society appears prepared to accept the amendments to Luedtke's bill.

"Obviously, the bill doesn't go as far as we would've preferred," said Tami Santelli, state director for the Humane Society. "But we think it's better than the current law in Maryland."


(c)2014 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.)

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