02/02/2012 06:38 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2012

Protecting Threatened Animals in Virginia

This year is gearing up to be a busy one for issues involving a variety of animals. From lions to sharks to foxes to snakes, we'll be pushing for legislation that increases protections for the animals in Virginia who deserve our compassion. Here is a legislative session update about how we hope to help animals in the 2012 Virginia General Assembly.

Exotic Animals:

Do your neighbors have a tiger in their basement, a bear in the garage, or a Burmese python in the den? You might think it would be impossible for someone to turn their private home into a mini-menagerie, but Virginia's lack of regulations on the private possession of dangerous wild animals means it's a free-for-all in terms of keeping predators, primates, and even giant constricting and venomous snakes as pets or roadside attractions.

Frequent news stories depict exactly why it's incredibly perilous for people to keep exotic animals in their homes. You may recall last April, when a Surry County man was attacked while he slept by a Java macaque monkey he kept as a pet. The man was hospitalized for his injuries. According to the Virginia Department of Health, "Up to 90 percent of adult macaques can be carriers of Herpes B-virus," which has "a fatality rate of about 70 percent" in humans. The 30-pound, 7-year-old "Sammy," as well as the man's other macaque, were subsequently surrendered to a recognized exotic animal facility. Unlike private citizens, accredited zoos and sanctuaries can provide exotic animals with the proper care, enclosures and enrichment so that they can live safe, happy lives without endangering humans.

For the sake of animal welfare, public safety and public health, only accredited and qualified facilities should be able to house certain dangerous exotic animals.

Fox Penning

You may have never heard of this heinous blood sport. I call it Virginia's most shameful secret. Foxes are taken from the wild and released into an enclosure so dogs can chase them down, for people's entertainment and competition. Judges score the dogs on various characteristics of pursuit. The bewildered foxes are inevitably terrorized and often torn apart in these rigged events. You can watch a video of this cruel competition here.

Multiple state investigations have shown that fox pens demand a steady supply of foxes, sometimes from illegal sources. In just three years, Virginia fox pen operators reported stocking nearly 4,000 foxes -- all captured from the wild and forced to run for their lives in fenced pens. This cruel "sport" should be exposed for what it is -- unnecessary animal abuse -- and outlawed in Virginia for good.

Shark Finning

We don't usually think of sharks as being afraid of people, but they should be. Every year, fins from tens of millions of sharks are used to make shark fin soup. This menu item has been a major contributor to the collapse of shark populations worldwide, including along Virginia's coast. "Finning" is an abhorrent practice that involves slicing off the fins of a live shark and discarding the animal at sea to drown or bleed to death. Sharks have inhabited our oceans for 400 million years and scientists warn that existing shark populations cannot sustain the current slaughter rates.

A ban on the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins in Virginia would eliminate the demand for shark fins here and end our state's involvement in the highly destructive global shark fin trade.