RACINE COUNTY — Before changes to a bill putting limits on exotic animals were announced, Jo-Don Farms worried the measure would have a devastating impact.

“It would have closed us down,” said Kathy Meyer, marketing director at the small family zoo at 5907 Nicholson Road.

The bill prohibits people from possessing, breeding and selling a long list of exotic animals, such as lions, tigers, apes and crocodilians. But state Sen. Van Wanggaard, who co-authored the legislation, said the measure will be amended to carve out exemptions for smaller zoos such as Jo-Don and Bear Den Zoo and Petting Farm in the Town of Waterford.

Exemptions were already made for vets, zoos accredited through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, circuses and wildlife. But that left many smaller zoos like Jo-Don facing huge repercussions.

Wanggaard, R-Racine, said last week an amendment will allow facilities accredited by the Zoological Association of American and anyone with a U.S. Department of Agriculture license.

Officials say the change will protect the likes of Jo-Don and the Bear Den, 6831 Big Bend Road.

“This was never about taking the professionals and stopping them from being able to have their business,” Wanggaard said. “This was about creating a baseline law for personal ownership so that if somebody wants to have a tiger as a pet, they won’t be able to do that because they’re an exotic, dangerous animal.”

‘Milwaukee Lion’ cited

Wanggaard has said the measure was inspired largely by the search for a lion-like creature that was reportedly wandering the streets of Milwaukee last summer. Animal control officers believe the animal was likely a released or escaped lion, though no one knows for sure, as the beast was never captured. Searches for escaped exotics put police and other authorities in danger and drain municipal resources, the senator said in a memo seeking co-sponsors.

The law would not affect individuals who legally own such animals now but would prevent them from adding more, Wanggaard said.

Meyer believes the bill was an overreaction to the Milwaukee incident. Current laws are sufficient, she said, noting that residents possessing animals like a lion are likely already violating local ordinances.

“We strongly believe that somebody has to be watching over all animal owners,” she said. “What we need to do, instead of making more laws, is use the laws we already have in place.”

Anyone with concerns about domesticated animals can call the humane society or their local law enforcement agency, Meyer said.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will likely vote on the amended bill within the next few weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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