After two contentious public hearings and a flock of messages urging action, the Pierce County Council is about to take another look at licensing bird-breeding facilities such as Scudder’s Parrot Depot in Roy.
The council, which twice has considered expanding the county’s animal licensing ordinance to include birds, will hold a committee hearing Aug. 8 and decide whether the full council should consider the proposal, offered by Councilwoman Barbara Gelman.

To get an early reaction to the licensing proposal Gelman will meet today with two bird breeders and two representatives of the animal welfare community. An avian veterinarian also might attend.

The action comes after council members received hundreds of letters, most urging them to license aviaries and thus allow inspections. At present, kennels, catteries, grooming parlors and pet stores with six or more animals must be licensed.

Unlike earlier rejected drafts that covered breeding operations of all sizes, the revised ordinance looks to license larger facilities and not small or hobbyist breeders.

“It is going to be exactly what they’ve been writing letters about,” said Gelman, chairwoman of the Public Safety and Human Services Committee. “If there’s anything we’ve missed or left out of the ordinance, that will come out in the committee hearing.”

The council declined two years ago to expand the ordinance but looked at the issue again after a News Tribune story Dec. 18, 2005, that examined conditions at Scudder’s. The report, “Parrots in Peril,” documented allegations of disease and neglect at the state’s largest breeding facility, which holds hundreds of parrots, including several endangered species.

Martha Scudder, who operates the facility with Bob Vincent, has said her birds are not mistreated or diseased.

After the expose the council received hundreds of letters urging action. The public safety committee held a public hearing Feb. 14, and tabled the proposal.

About 90 people attended the hearing, most complaining the licensing proposal went too far and would punish people who keep birds as a hobby, including folks who raise pigeons. Some also complained the $250 licensing fee was too high.

Gelman then proposed a revised ordinance, based on measures from Colorado, Georgia and Selah, Yakima County. Colorado’s law has minimum care standards for bird-breeding facilities, the Georgia act has licensing regulations for bird dealers and Selah’s municipal code requires a license for all commercial aviaries.

In crafting the new ordinance, the council’s legislative analyst, Carolyn Pendle, also referred to testimony in earlier hearings on the idea.

The new ordinance would:

• Require a license for commercial aviaries, defined as facilities that breed birds other than poultry and that sell or transfer more than 30 birds a year. The number of birds a facility houses wouldn’t matter, only how many are sold or transferred.

• Require aviary owners to have their premises inspected by a state licensed veterinarian. Breeders can pick the veterinarian to inspect and sign off on the facility, or can seek to be designated a member of the Model Aviculture Program.

The MAP certification, by the American Federation of Aviculture, requires an aviary be inspected by a veterinarian and that it meet standards covering the facility, its management and practices.

• Set the licensing fee at $100, down from $250 in the previous proposal.

In addition, licensing would allow animal control officers to do random inspections of breeding and selling facilities, which currently isn’t possible with aviaries. Officers can enter a bird-breeding facility only if a complaint has been made and can seek prosecution only if animal cruelty can be proved.

The four people meeting today with Gelman will be Vincent, who helps run Scudder’s; Natalie Furman, the local representative of the American Federation of Aviculture; Stewart Metz, a member of the Avian Welfare Coalition and the World Parrot Trust; Inga Gibson, the Pacific Northwest coordinator of the Humane Society of the U.S.

Gelman said the committee will consider issues raised at today’s meeting and those voiced Aug. 8.

“If there are any concerns on an issue that they have strong arguments for or against, we’re going to look at whether we should keep those things in the ordinance,” she said. “Or if there’s anything in the public testimony over and above what’s already been testified to, we will determine whether in fact that would make a difference.”

At both previous hearings, hobbyist pigeon breeders protested the ordinance, saying its fees would pose an unfair burden on them. The revised ordinance targets large bird breeders and not hobbyists.

“This won’t affect the racing pigeon people at all,” said Roy resident Bill Smith, a pigeon breeder for more than 50 years and a member of the American Racing Pigeon Union. “None of our people sell pigeons to anybody else.”

Ron Witson, a Pierce County member of four pigeon clubs and a pigeon breeder for five decades, said the previous ordinance would have impinged on the family hobby but the new version won’t.

“We won’t have a problem with this because you’re not trying to charge the common person who just has a hobby with birds for their kids and themselves,” he said.

Smiles Germeau, a longtime breeder who has 150 large parrots in her Lewis County facility, supports licensing but worries breeders will choose veterinarians who will give an easy sign-off without checking to be sure the birds are healthy.

“There are vets out here that don’t know much about birds,” she said. “They will know clean and unclean, but I would feel a little bit dubious about some of them.”

Frances Davidson, a longtime Pierce County breeder, said the revised ordinance doesn’t address the condition of the birds themselves.

“There’s nothing about protecting the birds and the conditions they live in,” Davidson said. “Isn’t that the object of being licensed? Licensing is needed, but to me, this is just a money-grabbing situation.”

On the net

The draft of the Pierce County ordinance to license bird-breeding facilities is available at:

www.piercecountywa.org/xml/Abtus/ourorg/council/Draft%20aviary%20ord.pdf

Ordinances used to draft the Pierce County measure are available at:

www.ag.state.co.us/animals/petc.html

www.ag.state.co.us/animals/PACFA/13.00 Bird Breeder.pdf

• agr.georgia.gov/vgn/images/portal/cit_1210/43/24/40698650AP_GA_Animal_Protection_Act_6-24-04.pdf

• agr.georgia.gov/vgn/images/portal/cit_1210/48/24/40698166AP_Bird_Dealers_Licensing.pdf

• municipalcodes.lexisnexis.com/codes/selah/

Mira Tweti: parrotstory@comcast.net


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