Critics Assail Congressional Bill to Regulate 'Size of House Cats'

By Marc Morano | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - Animal rights advocates are using the near-fatal tiger attack on Las Vegas showman Roy Horn, half of the illusionist team Siegfried & Roy, to push for federal regulations on the ownership of exotic animals and the banning of animal performances. Critics of the effort say the federal government should stay out of the issue.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and actress Tippi Hedron are urging the passing of federal legislation to ban private citizens from "keeping big cats as pets."

U.S. Senators James Jeffords (I-Vt.) and John Ensign (R-Nev.) and U.S. Representatives Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) and George Miller (D-Calif.) sponsored the Captive Wildlife Safety Act earlier this year.

"This legislation should be passed by the end of this year in order to shrink the big cat trade and prevent more tragedies from occurring," stated Wayne Pacelle, a senior vice president of the HSUS.

"What's more, every state should have a law barring people from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets," Pacelle added.

But a free market group in Washington denounced the call for federal regulations on animal ownership.

"This is not a federal matter. The federal government that is so intrusive into everything - now do you want them governing the size of house cats?" asked Edward Hudgins, the Washington director of the Objectivist Center, in an interview with The Objectivist Center advocates the principles of limited government and individualism.

"This is nuts. This is certainly the nose under the tent. If [the animal rights advocates] get something like this, then the animal rights people will get their whole agenda," Hudgins added.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has also joined in the cause, faxing a letter to Horn's hospital bed urging him to release all of his captive animals, which are part of one of Las Vegas' biggest show attractions.

Horn, 59, suffered a near-fatal neck wound last week when his 7-year-old male tiger named Montecore attacked him during a live stage performance in Las Vegas.

Horn reportedly tapped the tiger on the nose with a microphone just before the attack began in an effort to make the animal obey a command to lie down.

Horn, who also suffered a stroke following the attack, was reportedly improving and responding to treatment on Tuesday.

PETA stated that its letter to Horn wished him a full recovery, but also urged that he and his partner, Siegfried Fischbacher, retire their animals and place them in a sanctuary.

"Perhaps Friday's frightening incident will make you realize that a brightly lit stage with pounding music and a screaming audience is not the natural habitat for tigers, lions or any other exotic animals," Dan Mathews, PETA's vice president, wrote to Horn.

"The only natural thing that happened on that stage was that this majestic animal lashed out against a captor who was beating him with a microphone because he wouldn't do a trick," Mathews wrote.

"No matter how much you say that you love the wild animals whom you have confined continents away from their natural homes, you are still the men who have subjugated their wills and natures to further your own careers," Mathews concluded.

PETA also released a letter it authored to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman on Tuesday, calling for her department to "ban any activities that permit direct contact with tigers, lions and other big cats."

According to PETA, "Since 1990, there have been at least 151 dangerous incidents involving big cats in 34 states," resulting in the deaths of 13 people and more than 40 severe injuries, including dismemberment.

PETA expressed concern for the animals involved in the attacks.

"The animals involved are victims, too. Fifty-four big cats have been killed because of these incidents," a PETA statement read.

Lisa Wathne, PETA's captive exotic animal specialist, cited the Siegfried & Roy incident as evidence that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed to act in accordance with the federal Animal Welfare Act.

"Despite countless tragic incidents, the USDA has been negligent in continuing to allow big cats to be used in dangerous situations," Wathne wrote in the Oct. 7 letter to Veneman.

"The use of big cats in performance is also inappropriate and harmful for the animals involved. Tigers and other exotic animals are typically abused during training, separated from their mothers before they are weaned, subjected to overwhelming noise and confusion and forced to live in cramped, unnatural environments," Wathne added.

But Hudgins believes the U.S. is headed down a "slippery slope" in which the animal rights agenda will continue to make incremental advances, resulting eventually in such things as "cow rights."

"There are nutty enough people out there - they would do this sort of thing. It's a nutty nonsensical agenda," Hudgins said.

Hudgins would like to see more opposition to the animal rights agenda.

"[Animal rights groups] have become too strong by default because we have not had people who would philosophically stand up to them and say, 'This is nonsense,'" Hudgins said.

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