October 21, 2014
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Few squawk over bill allowing birds, pets at camps
TOOTSIE

If you’ve got a goldfish, don’t take it camping. Rhode Island state law currently prohibits all animals, except for cats and dogs, at state campgrounds. That includes goldfish, even if they’re kept in a bowl.

But a new bill introduced by Rep. Joseph Trillo (R-Dist 24, Warwick) would change that, and allow any pet that weighs 35 pounds or less to accompany their owner to state campgrounds.

Today, the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources will hear the bill that would allow turtles, birds, fish, guinea pigs and rabbits to go camping legally with their owners.

Rep. Trillo said the current law regarding pets came to his attention last October when he was guest hosting a radio show on 630 WPRO.

He received a call from a man who said he was kicked out of two state-run campgrounds for bringing his cockatoo with him.

That man was Tom Wharton. Wharton owns Tootsie, a white umbrella cockatoo, and for the past 18 years, has brought the bird on camping trips. But that all changed last summer.

“Someone found out that I had a bird, in a cage, in my camper, and threw me out,” he said.

In his 18 years of camping, Wharton said he has never had any complaints about Tootsie.

“But it does violate the law,” he said. “You could have a goldfish in a bowl, and you could be thrown out.”

Trillo was amazed by Wharton’s story and told Wharton he would research the law. When he did, he was confused by what he found.

“You can have two dogs, two cats, or one of each,” he said. “But you can’t have a turtle, or a fish or another common pet. It’s kind of unfair.”

Wharton said his bird is comparatively safe, clean and quiet.

“Dogs have a greater ability to harm someone,” he said. “Every morning when you camp, you wake up to dogs barking.”

Trillo made calls to state campgrounds to see if the law was strictly enforced, and found out it was.

Wharton said he knows who finally disclosed to the campground management that he had a bird, and thinks it was a personal attack.

Since then, Wharton has been taking steps to change the law. He has contacted the Department of Environmental Management, but they were adamant about adhering to the law.

Wharton plans to testify at today’s hearing, and said he can’t imagine why anyone would oppose the bill. Trillo agreed.

“I don’t think anyone will oppose it, but who knows,” he said.

Environment committee chair Arthur Handy had some reservations with the bill when contacted about two weeks ago. Apart from noisy birds, Handy wondered about other pets such as snakes that might get loose in state parks.

Rep. Frank Ferri (D-Dist. 22, Warwick) said he wouldn’t have a problem with the bill as long as the pet owners are respectful of other campers.

“As long as people are responsible and the animals can’t get loose, I don’t have a problem with it,” he said.

Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist 19, Cranston, Warwick) isn’t sold on the idea.

“I love pets as much as the next guy,” he said.

But McNamara worries that someone may take a noisy bird like a rooster to the campground.

“It could be very noisy early in the morning,” he said. “It could be disruptive.”

McNamara said a cockatoo like Wharton’s could also be problematic due to noise.

“I’ve heard complaints about someone that has a noisy cockatoo,” he said.

Wharton contends that he has never had a noise complaint about his bird.

McNamara said he hopes today’s discussion touches on the various possibilities of the bill’s passage.

“We have rules for a reason,” he said.


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