By Marc S. Witkin, Point Park News Service:
In Pennsylvania, one can legally have a variety of exotic pets – just as long as they aren’t a hedgehog or a sugar glider.
Despite permits to own a bear or a mountain lion, there is absolutely no exception to the Game Commission’s ban on these smaller, outlawed mammals.
They fall into a much larger category with other species the state feels have the potential to escape, establish breeding populations and cause harm to native species and their habitats, said Travis Lau, the press secretary for the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The state calls them an injurious species.
Alyssa Falcione, 23, of Penn Ridge, has had unusual pets nearly all her life. As a child, her family kept chameleons, chinchillas and a raccoon named Charlie.
Currently, she has a small zoo’s worth of exotic pets living at home with her. She has two cats, two dogs, a Chinese water dragon, an albino snow corn snake, a 12-foot boa constrictor, a leopard gecko, a savannah monitor lizard and a ball python.
While some of these animals aren’t typical pets, they aren’t illegal to possess. But in the past, she’s also cared for small, rare mammals such as sugar-gliders, something the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would have objected to if it had known.
Lau said he is frequently asked how to keep a sugar glider or a hedgehog in the state legally. The answer never changes.
“You can own neither,” he said. “We do issue permits of certain types of exotic wildlife, but those typically include native wildlife species to Pennsylvania being held in captive facilities. These include black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, turkeys, pheasants, that type of thing.”
If one of those captive animals escaped, it wouldn’t pose a threat to the Pennsylvania wildlife.
Unfortunately, he said, the same cannot be said about smaller animals, such as sugar gliders and hedgehogs.
“The possession of hedgehogs was prohibited in Pennsylvania in the early 1990s,” Lau said. “We never issued permits for them. I’m not sure any hedgehogs that might have been possessed as pets prior to the change in law are still alive today.”
These bans have not made obtaining such animals impossible.
“I did have a sugar glider at one point. I was about 14,” Falcione said. “They kind of have a similar temperament to raccoons. They’re an odd mix of needy and independent. They want to do their own thing, but they want to know you’re there if they need anything.”
But Falcione admits they aren’t the easiest pets.
“You have to pay them a lot of attention,” she said. “They really can glide across the room, and they could crash into something, or they could just start chewing on wires. It can be like having a 1-year-old child that can float through the air…At night they make these barking sounds, which can be kind of obnoxious, so you’d want kind of a big living space if you’re raising sugar gliders.”
While Pennsylvania has long had bans on hedgehogs and sugar gliders, these animals can be adopted across state lines.
“In Ohio, being a glider breeder is like being a breeder for bulldogs or something,” Falcione said.
Falcione also raised hedgehogs when she was younger, a task which required special attention, much like her pet sugar glider.
“They’re one of the harder pets I’ve had,” said Falcione.“They’re obviously kind of painful to handle, and their heart beats at an absurd rate so you really need to keep them calm. It’s like an art. You have to gain its trust, move slowly, and find a way to soothe and comfort a tiny living ball of spines.”