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Measure would add to list of banned, exotic pets, enhance penalties

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(The Center Square) – Penalty enhancements could be coming to those who own serval cats, kangaroos, caracals, wallabies or any hybrids of these animals, if a bill makes it through the Senate as it did the House.

A serval is a wild cat native to Africa. State Rep. Daniel Didech, D-Buffalo Grove, said he and law enforcement believe the cat has no place in residential neighborhoods.

“The petting zoos are safe. We are not closing petting zoos in the state of Illinois,” said Didech, who received thunderous applause from his fellow legislators on the House floor Thursday after assuring the measure would not close petting zoos. “This is a very serious bill that was brought to me by law enforcement. In November of 2023, dog walkers who encountered a serval described the animal as aggressive and were chased and cornered by the animal. September 2023, a serval escaped from his owners apartment and a Macon County sergeant described the animal as aggressive. In June 2019, a pet caracal escaped and attacked a woman and her 6-year old child. The woman and her child were taken to the hospital.”

State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, asked, on the House floor, if the Illinois legislature would consider outlawing dogs next.

“I hear about a lot more people being bit by dogs as opposed to a kangaroo,” said Meier. “What are we doing? What are we going to do about Captain Kangaroo who lives in my county at a petting zoo. If you had an animal like this get loose in your town … let your town outlaw it. You want to do away with people’s livelihoods, their pets and their family members. If somebody gets bit by a dog, maybe we should outlaw dogs in the state.”

According to a State Farm report published in accordance with National Dog Bite Prevention Week, Illinois ranked No. 2 nationally in dog bite claims in 2020, with 258 claims filed and $12.6 million in claims paid out. Illinois also ranked seventh in the number of USPS workers bitten by dogs in 2021, according to the USPS Dog Attack National Rankings.

The measure would amend the Criminal Code of 2012, making it an offense to keep a dangerous animal. The measure broadens the definition of “dangerous animal” to include a serval, caracal, kangaroo, and wallaby and any hybrid, intergrade, or cross of a listed dangerous animal.

State Rep. Steven Reick, R-Woodstock, pressed Didech about his bill that enhances penalties for those who have exotic animals, like kangaroos.

“When we pass a gun bill we give people like 30 days to hand in their weapons and their FOID card to avoid penalty. Is there similar protection in this bill where I’ve got 30 days to turn in my kangaroo?” said Reick.

Didech said if the bill passed the law will go into effect on Jan. 1 2025, and from there individuals will have about six months to surrender their exotic animal, like a kangaroo.

Illinois House Minority Leader Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, thanked Didech for the “very serious” legislation.

“Violation results in a Class 3 misdemeanor, which may carry a sentence of no more than 30 days in prison, no more than two years probation, and a fine of no more than $1,500 per violation, each day in violation is a separate offense. That’s not a penalty enhancement?” McCombie said on the floor on Thursday.

Didech said it’s not a penalty enhancement because that’s the penalty under current law for owning certain exotic animals. What his bill does is change the definition of what animals are included in the law, which will ultimately subject more exotic animal owners to penalties.

“Right … just a ‘technical change,’” said McCombie.

McCombie has brought a bill forward that would enhance the penalties for someone who assaults a Department of Children and Family Services worker, but state Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Metropolis, pointed out that that measure has yet to come out of committee let alone be considered on the House floor because of Democratic opposition.

Opponents of the bill say penalties are already high against people who commit crimes against DCFS workers.

Another bill dealing with penalty enhancements stalled in the House on Friday, after Democratic opposition said enhancing penalties around certain types of behavior is not always an effective way of making sure that behavior doesn’t happen.