Albert Lea tiger case may prompt new law

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 12, 2003

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) &045; Animal welfare officials are calling for a state law to regulate the sale and care of exotic animals after police found an Albert Lea boy living with a 35-pound tiger cub.

The fifth-grade boy had scratches and bite marks and was falling asleep in class. He told school officials that a baby tiger slept in his bedroom and was keeping him up at night. Police officers later found a malnourished 35-pound tiger cub in his family’s home.

The boy’s father bought the tiger legally for $2,500 from a breeder in Red Wing. It was taken away from him last month.

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There is no law to regulate the sale and care of such animals in Minnesota. But a group of animal welfare organizations hopes that a bill to set standards will be introduced at the Legislature this year.

&uot;This tiger may not be terribly dangerous right now, but it still could give a hellacious bite,&uot; said Keith Streff, director of investigations for the Animal Humane Society in Golden Valley, where the cub is being held.

Although the number of exotic animals owned in the state isn’t known, Streff said he believes that there are hundreds.

The bill wouldn’t ban ownership of exotic animals. It would create a list of animals that are considered exotic and establish registration requirements, Streff said. Standards would be set for living conditions and enforcement.

Many cities in the seven-county Twin Cities area have some kind of ordinance regarding exotic animals, but regulation dwindles in rural areas. Albert Lea requires a permit to keep or maintain a wild animal. Permit violations are a misdemeanor.

Last month, William Diaz Sr., 37, was charged with breaking the permit law and with misdemeanor cruelty to animals and lack of care of an animal.

The case started when police received reports of a tiger at Diaz’s house, but they found nothing. Authorities were notified again Jan. 6, after officials from Lakeview Elementary School said the boy told a teacher that he lived with a tiger and that it smelled bad, said Steve Schwab, the Albert Lea city attorney.

Police then searched the house and found the tiger. Feces and urine also were found in the house, Schwab said. Authorities did not indicate that there was any reason to remove the child from the home.

The family forfeited its rights to the animal after authorities didn’t hear from them for 20 days, double the time a person is required to receive under the law, Schwab said.

The tiger will be moved to the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Keenesburg, Colo.