Kudos to the State of Georgia
by Lisa

We’ve been keeping close tabs on recent events in the State of Georgia and it seems that the State is a Governor’s signature away from passing legislation that will legalize sugar gliders.  Georgia is one of the four Continental U.S. states that has had a law banning sugar gliders as pets, but it looks like that is all about to change.  Sen. John Bulloch took a creative, fun approach to legalizing sugar gliders – he brought one into legislative chambers!  Here’s a link to the article.

May I humbly suggest this is a great example of what could be done in any legislative setting from the State down to City Council.  People often simply don’t understand what they can’t experience!

Bulloch’s bill has been drafted and has now passed both the Senate and the House of Representatives.  The measure was submitted to the Governor’s office on April 10, 2008.  You can follow events surrounding this effort by going directly to the State of Georgia General Assembly official state website here.  This link automatically searches the legislative database for the phrase “sugar glider”.  Short of the Governor’s refusal to sign off on this bill, residents of Georgia should be able to enjoy the company of sugar gliders soon!

If you were a part of this effort in Georgia and have any advice, samples of letters you wrote, etc. please let me know and we will make this information available to the sugar glider community.

BOO-dos to the City of St Paul
by Lisa 

Hey Lisa, Arnold, and the gang,

I was reading through your newsletter and I noticed that in the Miami/ West Palm Beach area there was an unfavorable news story about our little friends.  I was surprised to see that it is not just happening here in Minnesota!  That’s right, Sugar Gliders are getting bad press here too, and by what I have heard it was a very similar situation with what you in FL have experienced.  Unfortunately gliders lost the battle in St. Paul, and are now banned there.  Lucky for me I live in Minneapolis, but I still worry about the talk that has been going around.  I have been informing people about everything that is wrong when they express concern towards myself, Bowser, and Lema, and everyone agrees that St. Paul did the wrong thing.

If you desire to read the local story, here’s a link to it.  I just hope that people get smarter about purchases and wise up on the news with Sugar Gliders, because I would be devastated if I ever had to give my babies up.

Jon B
Dear Jon,

I couldn’t agree more with your point of view and after reading the article, I really think this shows just how uninformed, knee jerk reactions can happen.  It states in the article that the City of St Paul officials contacted Australian officials to discuss the matter.  Where this approach fell severely short is that all animals indigenous to Australia are illegal to keep as pets!  Australia does not single out particular species, they’ve passed legislation banning keeping anyindigenous animals as pets.  So as I’ve said last month, it’s like asking a vegetarian how to cook a steak.

I’m going to discuss this issue a bit more in the last article of this month’s newsletter, but understanding the problem is at the heart of offering workable solutions.  In this particular Miami situation, the problem is very simply defined as spontaneous purchases of sugar gliders.  The answer is not in stripping the rights away from everyone because a single vendor and their buyers created “news.”  The answer is in controlling spontaneous purchases.

There are many ways to do this.  One simple method would be to create legislation similar to some gun laws.  You make the commitment to buy, but you have a three day waiting period before you get the “goods.”  It pains me to categorize sugar gliders as goods, but a three day waiting period makes sense in making big purchases.  At the time of purchase, the intended buyer would have a three day right of rescission; perhaps fill out a registration form to register the animals with the local or state authorities.  The registration form would include information about the seller’s USDA license as well as local licenses that the community / state would require as well, thus prohibiting vendors from selling without appropriate licenses.

Most importantly, people who’ve just learned about sugar gliders for the first time and got caught up in the moment of a good sales pitch and a beyond adorable critter would be forced to “sleep on it” for a few days.  An excited sugar glider wannabe would likely take that three day waiting period as a time to learn.  Most would take the time to go online, get a book or do something that feeds into their new pet enthusiasm.  It gives people time to “sleep on it” to increase the likelihood that they are making a well informed decision.  This would remedy the City of St Paul’s concerns without taking rights away from their citizens.  I think it was a very foolish knee jerk reaction of the part of the City of St Paul.

Legislation should encourage responsibility and accountability, but I think the City of St Paul treated it’s citizens like small children rather than responsible tax paying adults.

How we can affect sugar glider laws as a community
by Lisa

There are really only two reasons why laws banning animals should ever come into play.  I think if we understand the alleged logic of why legislators are compelled to draft and pass such laws, we will better equip ourselves to educate those legislators to pass laws that solve the problem without stripping rights from the majority of exotic pet keepers that do it well.  In trying to understand why such laws exist, I believe there are two primary concerns our elected officials should be asking themselves in making such decisions:

* Does the animal in question pose a health threat to people?

* Does the animal in question pose a threat to the environment or ecology of the elected officials’ jurisdiction?

Once we get past these two questions, if the government still passes laws that ban sugar gliders, I think all they are doing is trying to take an easy way out of solving problems or perceived problems by just saying no.  But as Americans, don’t we expect our government to keep our freedoms intact?  Do any of us really want the government making decisions about what I consider “low level” issues and issues that the government representatives probably know very little about?

Personally I would rather our government focus on the big picture and issues that are more universal in scope rather than having them spend taxpayer time and money on worrying about what type of pets we keep, that is as long as the first two questions are adequately addressed.  I’m not, after all, encouraging situations that endanger people or the environment.  That would be rather short sighted in the scheme of things.

Let’s look at an example of question number one.  Several years ago, prairie dogs were found to be potential carriers of a disease called monkeypox.  Monkeypox is a rare viral disease and there had not been a reported outbreak in the U.S. prior to the prairie dog incident. So now keeping prairie dogs as pets has been made illegal.  Was this the right decision?

According to statistics that I found on a Center for Disease control website, in Africa 1 to 10 % of those people infected with monkeypox have died.  Based upon this information alone, I can see why prairie dogs had been singled out and illegalized.  But I still had unanswered questions.  Is there a vaccine that could be given to prairie dogs that would eliminate the possibility of monkeypox?  Are the statistical deaths so high because of a lack of access to good nutrition and health care in Africa?  In doing further research, there is no medical treatment available for monkeypox.  So in my opinion, this is probably a good law as there does not appear to be a reasonable method to assure human safety in keeping prairie dogs as pets.
Is there any such risk with sugar gliders?  There are no known diseases that sugar gliders are likely to carry that are life threatening to people caring for them.

I’m OK with laws that ban animals that pose a threat to humans, but in spite of my feelings, there are people allowed to keep poisonous snakes, alligators, poisonous frogs, spiders, reptiles etc? Sugar gliders pose no such threats and this should not be a basis for illegalization, especially in light of the precedence set with animals that are clearly a threat to humans still being legal under certain conditions.

The second big question that I assume lawmakers consider is the effect on the environment.  I always felt this may be part of the reason sugar gliders were deemed illegal to keep in Georgia and California.  Both of these states depend heavily on farm commodities to support their economies.  But, ahem, so does Florida, the Carolinas, all gulf coast states, all the Midwest states, maybe even all states to some degree.  But, alas, states are allowed to make such decisions for their citizenry.

Other states illegal to own sugar gliders are Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.  While sugar gliders could likely proliferate in parts of California and Georgia if released into the wild, there is no way these sub-tropical inhabitants could ever survive the harsh winters in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.  Why is this even a law in those states?  There is no sound basis for the law to exist.

Even if there was a substantiated environment threat, the key word to this threat is proliferation.  Can the animals survive in the climate of that community?  Can they breed and proliferate as well?  

OK, say the answer to both of these questions is yes.  Isn’t there a super simple solution to this?  Let sugar gliders be kept as pets, but require that all males are neutered.  If you cannot legally keep intact males, unless a qualified and licensed breeder, how can the animals possibly procreate?  Therefore they cannot be a threat to the environment!  So pass a law that requires sterilization of the male sugar gliders and be done with it.

This would be a better law than a law forbidding ownership altogether, because some people are going to do it anyway.  What you end up with is a lot of animals that are kept illegally and because people are afraid of being turned in, they will not maintain proper vet care for their pets and cannot sell unwanted babies.  So they release them into the wild and the very thing the law was intended to address causes people to do the thing they are not supposed to do.

Why?  Because the law makes it intimidating to advertise animals in the paper, or otherwise transfer ownership of animals without the dreaded cloud of large fines, animal confiscation, etc.  What is needed are better educated law makers.

In the case of Georgia, one of the Senators actually brought a sugar glider into the Assembly.  This was a brilliant and expeditious way to address the issue.  Once the Senate saw the little sugar glider taken from the presenter’s pocket, they voted unanimously to change the law, encouraging legalization of sugar gliders in Georgia.

In the case of St Paul, the alleged concern was the perception that an onslaught of unwanted animals would end up as wards of the local area humane societies, because people were buying sugar gliders without knowing enough about them. Is illegalization the answer?  I say that not only was that the wrong approach, but the approach in itself could create the very thing that City Council Members were trying to avert.

First off, were the citizens who’ve been glider keepers prior to the passage of the law allowed to keep their pets?  Or are they now criminals under the new law?  Where will their sugar gliders go if they were not grandfathered in?  (If you are from the St Paul area or know someone who is, please write to us and let us know the answer to this question.)  If the intention was to avert the possibility of unwanted animals in shelters, then what are people supposed to do that already have sugar gliders?  If it were me, I would be really inclined to move because I’m not giving up my babies.  But that is way easier said than done!

Laws should protect the rights of people and animals and there are ways to do this without stripping all privileges.  Legislation that is reasonable will be more effective.  The legislation should affect all those who breed, sell and keep sugar gliders in a fair manner that preserves the rights for those who treat these animals responsibly and deny rights to those who do not.

We have a few ideas that we believe can further these causes and the success of this venture will depend highly on community response and our ability to effectively communicate with our law makers in a manner that supports their efforts and incorporate real solutions to the real and perceived problems that exist.  The concepts we will offer will of course be focused on sugar gliders, but from my experience, most people who keep exotics like sugar gliders tend to keep or have kept other unusual animals as well, so these ideas will be further reaching than just for sugar gliders.  You will be hearing more from us in the future on this topic, and we hope you will join us in the effort.

‘Til next time, in good health for you and your gliders, we sign off in appreciation of all of you who share great glider adventures with us!