Elephant Walk

Montgomery County tries to ride herd on its exotic pets

Swain did tell the council he would build a chain-link fence to hold the elephants, to comply with orders from inspectors with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. If owners register animals with the USDA, their pens and pets are subject to annual inspections, but they can then avoid county registrations.

If they sign their pets up with the county, they must post warning signs and notify officials of all births. Either way, they are required to keep their animals in secure enclosures. But the overlapping federal-county authority, coupled with municipal ordinances, adds to the difficulties of monitoring the animals, says Tim Holifield, Precinct 3 constable and animal control supervisor for Montgomery County. County commissioners are reviewing a proposal by Holifield to force owners to register on both federal and county levels.

Reginald Parr, the owner of the two tigers killed in 1998, had registered them with the USDA. While also a resident of the Cut and Shoot area, he is not associated with Swain or his business. The tigers reportedly escaped when an attendant entered their enclosure to feed them. Swain told authorities the elephant got loose when a large fallen tree limb insulated the animal from an electrically charged barrier.

Meanwhile, the county's Carriage Hill Community Improvement Association wants a judge to decide if a 70-pound puma, called Shasta the kitty by her owners, should be removed from that Montgomery County subdivision as a danger to neighbors.

In Cut and Shoot, Swain has made good on one of his promises to officials. He rebuilt the wooden fence next to Walker's property and fortified it with a new chain-link fence. Both fences have been expanded to form barriers between the animals and adjacent Texas 105. But six elephants were seen on those stomping grounds last week.

Walker says Cut and Shoot should enforce its ordinance against elephant overloads. He recoils at the laughter he hears from others about his woes with the herd next door.

"It ain't funny that I've got a zoo living next to me," he says. "If I wanted to live next to a zoo, I would have moved to Hermann Park."

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