Years ago, Suffolk County SPCA Chief Roy Gross said, some guy bought a bear cub in Minnesota, rented a car and drove the cub back to Long Island — and kept it in the house with his little kids.
Then, Gross said, that black bear cub started to grow. And the owner realized just how dangerous a full-grown bear might be — and that owning one probably wasn’t such a good idea.
In the years since, Gross said Tuesday, the SPCA has answered calls and confiscated an assortment of illegally owned, wild, exotic and highly dangerous or endangered animals. “We’ve had leopards in Dix Hills, a number of cougars. Venomous snakes, monkeys, alligators. Even a crocodile.”
As Gross said: “Nothing surprises me anymore.” And, he said, “That’s the problem.”
Last week, the SPCA got a call from a man in Ronkonkoma explaining he had a wolf and asking if he could turn it in.
It turned out, Gross said, the owner had acquired the wolf as a pup, buying it from a breeder out of state and then bringing it to Long Island, where he’d kept it illegally in his home.
Then, Gross said, the wolf matured and started to get aggressive. The owner got scared and called the SPCA.
Gross tells these stories because on Sept. 30 the SPCA, in cooperation with the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, will hold an Amnesty Day from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Town of Brookhaven Wildlife and Ecology Center on Buckley Road in Holtsville. That’s where owners of illegal, exotic animals can surrender them without penalty, no questions asked.
Nationwide, Gross said, illegal exotic animals account for about 75 deaths annually, not to mention thousands of injuries and the transmission of such diseases as herpes B, salmonellosis, even monkey pox.
“Anything you want you can get,” Gross said. “The question is why? Why would you want it? You have an animal like that, they’re endangering themselves, their family. And, of course, they’re endangering the public . . . These aren’t domesticated animals.
Gross said the wolf was the latest in a growing list of illegal animals found on Long Island. But, he said, the wolf story also provides a good lesson for the public.
That’s because, in addition to its Amnesty Day the SPCA gives amnesty for the proactive surrender of illegal and exotic animals. That means if an owner contacts the agency, before there’s a complaint or an investigation, to surrender an animal the owner will not be charged.
However, Gross said, if the SPCA or state Department of Environmental Conservation investigates a complaint and finds an illegal or exotic animal — or finds animal cruelty — the owner could face jail and fines. Gross also said owners can be charged if they release an illegal or exotic animal into the wild.
“There’s a reason these animals are illegal,” he said. “They’re illegal because it’s dangerous to own them.”
The 6 1⁄2-year-old female wolf, which had grown from a small 5-week-old pup to the size of a German shepherd, is the latest example, Gross said. The wolf is now living at the Wildlife and Ecology Center in Holtsville.
And, he said, people keep deadly snakes and other rare, exotic and dangerous animals before they realize they’re in over their heads.
“People get these animals because they want something exotic, different, something nobody else has,” Gross said. “These are wild animals. Wild animals cannot be trusted. Stick to your dogs and your cats.”
For more information on SPCA amnesty programs or how to surrender an illegal animal, call the SPCA at 631-382-7722 or the DEC at 631-444-0250.