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Joan Candy: Bill would hurt small zoos in state

There is a bill being considered by the state legislature that affects small zoos in Maryland.

I am concerned because the organization promoting this bill is a powerful one with a great deal of influence. Even its name suggests an official standing: Humane Society of the United States. In truth, it is just a very large group of sometimes extreme animal lovers.

I am not opposed to such organizations, being an animal lover myself, but I am upset that some of the members have decided that all small zoos are bad and must be regulated out of existence.

Their practice has been to send undercover people to small zoos to look for and document any negative things they can find. Of course, they find what they look for. Any place has something that can be made to look bad at times, especially if that is the only motivation of the viewer. They always ignore all the positive things around them. Their findings paint unrealistic pictures. They only see what they want to see.

I'm sure these people mean well and want to protect animals, but they really are going about it the wrong way. Doing away with small zoos, which they like to degrade by calling "roadside zoos," will create more problems than they realize. If they tried to see the other side of this, they would see how many animals are benefiting from the love and care they receive at smaller zoos.

One of my sons, who was raised in Carroll County and is a graduate of South Carroll High School, has been an animal lover since he was a toddler. When he told me he was going to own a zoo when he grew up, I didn't take him seriously. Turns out, he really meant it. He owns the Tri-State Zoological Park in Cumberland, one of the zoos being targeted.

Believe me, there is no one - including any of these animal group members - who loves an animal more than Bob does. He once drove hundreds of miles at night to rescue a baby lion born in another zoo whose mother refused her. He hand-raised and bottle-fed her. You should see how big and beautiful she is now. He has given homes to several exotic "pets" that otherwise would have been put down. He once had to catch a "pet" alligator whose owner had turned it loose when it got too big to keep in her yard.

Despite what these zoo opponents claim, I know he works long hours and never spares himself doing the best he can for any of the animals in his care. He loves them. And, if you ever visit his zoo, you'd see how much every one, in turn, loves him.

He also gives educational talks and tours to those visiting his zoo, which includes school groups and families.

One thing these animal lovers ignore is that these animals can never be returned to a wild existence. None of Bob's animals have ever been in the wild. Most were born in other zoos or raised as "pets" by people unable to keep them when they matured. If Bob hadn't taken them in, they probably would have been put down. Is this the alternative that these animal groups would prefer to the loving home they now have?

If there are any problems found at his zoo, Bob is quick to correct them. But it is hard for him to fight such a large organization out to destroy him. His is the smallest of the three zoos that would be affected by this bill. The other two are Catoctin Zoo and Plumpton Park.

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