Testimony favors small pets at campgrounds


“I just want to be treated equal,” said Tom Wharton.

Wharton, the owner of an 18-year-old cockatoo named Tootsie, was one of a handful to testify in favor of legislation that would allow pets under 35 pounds at state campgrounds on Thursday. As it stands, only cats and dogs are allowed at state campsites, a law Wharton sees as unfair.

Wharton, who was kicked out of two campgrounds last summer because of Tootsie, inspired Rep. Joseph Trillo to introduce the bill.

Under current Rhode Island law, campers may only bring one or two cats and/or dogs along with them, and all other pets, including birds, reptiles and fish, are illegal.

Tootsie is a white umbrella cockatoo that Wharton has been taking with him to campgrounds for 18 years. But last summer, someone squawked and got Wharton kicked out. That’s when he made a call to WPRO and discussed the matter with Trillo, who was guest hosting on the air.

The bill heard Thursday by the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources says domestic pets weighing 35 pounds or less would no longer be illegal at Rhode Island state campgrounds.

Rep. Joseph McNamara, the secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said he worries about the noise level a bird like Tootsie might produce.

“I hear their screams could be heard up to a mile away,” he said.

“I do suspect they have the capability, but Tootsie doesn’t make any noise,” said Wharton.

McNamara said he attended an agricultural fair in the past where he met people with pet roosters.

“That rooster is going to do what he’s going to do at 5:30 a.m.,” said McNamara. “With that said, I have a neighbor that has a loud, barking dog.”

Many of those who testified made the comparisons between dogs and other pets, particularly as fodder on the noise issue.

Rep. Teresa Tanzi asked Robert Paquette, chief of the Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Parks and Recreation, what the noise regulations are for barking dogs.

Paquette said if a dog was barking at night and enough complaints were made, the pet owner would be addressed.

“What about during the day?” asked Tanzi.

“There’s no limit to noise during the day,” said Paquette. “When we do become aware of a situation, we take care of it.”

Paquette, who testified against the bill, said his biggest concern was management of other animals. In Rhode Island, cats and dogs are required to have specific vaccines and substantiating paperwork if they’re being brought to campgrounds.

“At least we have regulations that we can attach to cats and dogs,” he said, something he worries might not be as simple with a pig.

Others who testified in favor of the bill, like Dennis Tabella, founder of Defenders of Animals, said that 27 other states allow animals other than cats and dogs in their state campgrounds. Rhode Island is the only state in New England that prohibits animals other than canines and felines. Other states, like Connecticut and Massachusetts, have length restrictions on pets, allowing animals less than 10 feet in length at campgrounds.

The 10-foot length restriction elicited audible gasps from the panel and crowd.

Tabella argued that the state allows dangerous things like hunting and foothold traps but prohibits domestic pets from accompanying their owners.

“I have a problem with the consistency of state law in relation to animals,” he said.

Trillo suggested that the legislation may need tweaks, and even offered to make a list of specific animals that would be allowed. Rep. Laurence Ehrhardt agreed, saying a detailed list would be the easiest way to assure dangerous animals would not get loose on campsites.

The bill was recommended held for further study, and the debate over pet birds will remain in the air for a little while longer. However, both Trillo and McNamara confessed to being bird owners when they were younger.

Trillo had a pet rooster when he was a boy, and McNamara owned homing pigeons.

“I had them until my dad asked me to get rid of them,” he said. “You try getting rid of a homing pigeon.”


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