Metro Weekly

Cougar Town

Want an exotic animal? Try Florida, Alabama or Alaska.

Here in D.C., there are pretty stringent regulations governing animal control. With space at a premium, traffic-heavy streets and densely-populated residential areas, the city needs to ensure that any pets or animals kept are properly maintained, healthy and pose no risk to the general public. Common sense, really, but how aware are we of the laws that govern animals in the District?

Cougar Photo by Ferenc Cegledi

Photo by Ferenc Cegledi

For instance, dog owners, while you’re likely aware that your dog can only roam free of their leash in a dog park, did you know that on the walk to and from said park your leash must be no longer than four feet? Similarly, as harnesses become more popular for dog-walking, it’s important to remember that your dog still needs a collar or tag to properly identify them. If you live in an apartment block that permits pets, you’d also better ensure that your dog isn’t constantly barking while you’re at work, as disturbing the peace of a neighborhood or person is strictly forbidden – and likely to cause more than a few angry glares in the elevator.

Say, though, that dogs aren’t your thing. You’d something a little more feathered to care for. Surprisingly, this is perfectly acceptable under the District of Columbia’s Municipal Regulations – though it’s not without its provisos. If you’d like to keep chickens or ducks in your back yard, you’ll need a permit from the Mayor. That only happens if the Director of the Department of Human Services confirms that their coop is at least fifty feet from a residential building and that any neighbors within one hundred feet have agreed to their presence – though perhaps the promise of free eggs will help sweeten the deal for those opposed to your chicken farm.

Even more unusual than having freshly-laid eggs each day, if you fancy the thought of having honey on tap in your backyard that, too, is allowed. Keep the hive at least five hundred feet from your neighbors or enclose it so that the bees can’t stray too far and there’s no permit required – just set up your hive and start cultivating nature’s miracles and their delicious nectar.

D.C. has pretty standard animal control laws, especially in comparison to other parts of the country. Take Florida, for instance, where crazy seems to thrive. Though it’s illegal to keep a bear or leopard as your faithful pet, if you fancy petting a cougar when you get home from work, that’s perfectly okay. Seriously, cougars, alligators, monkeys and wolves, among many others, are all perfectly acceptable to keep as domesticated animals – you have to be over the age of eighteen and apply for a permit, but that’s the only barrier. Next time you’re visiting Disneyworld and hear howling from a nearby yard, don’t be surprised if you see a wolf staring up at the moon.

If you’re not too fond of humans, but like the thought of owning one of our distant relatives, then head to Arizona. There, it’s perfectly legal to keep a primate as a pet, no permit required. There is one proviso, though – your chosen monkey can’t be under a year old, so you’ll either have to raise it out of state or buy a fully-grown primate. After that it’s yours to keep without restriction. It’s a similar situation in Alaska, America’s most Northern state, where chimpanzees can be kept without permit. The same applies to alligators – though we’re not sure who is so desperate to keep a gator in the backyard – and other exotic animals. Just remember, a gator’s for life, not just for Christmas, as it’s illegal to release exotic animals into Alaska’s wilds.

If you want to go bigger, Alabama is your destination. The southern state has worryingly lax animal control laws, with a number of exotic animals allowed as domestic pets. It’s not that the state actively encourages owning a lion or bear, it’s more that there’s nothing specifically stating you shouldn’t own one. Keeping exotic pets has become enough of an issue that rescue centers exist in Alabama to cater for unwanted animals – Tigers For Tomorrow in Attalla, for instance. However, we’ll reiterate what any sane person would likely tell you – if you’re planning a move to Alabama to buy yourself a bear, remember that there’s a reason most other states restrict owning them as pets. Plus, Alabama has no laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, so perhaps you should stay in D.C. and attend Bear Happy Hour instead.

Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at