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Washington County commissioners may consider adding change to proposed ban on exotic animals; if it happens, public testimony would take place June 19.

Washington County commissioners will consider whether to broaden exemptions from a proposed ban on exotic animals.

Three commissioners agreed to consider adding an exemption for such animals if there is a certification by a professional organization, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or if an application is awaiting approval.

The exemption would be added to the proposed ban at the next scheduled public hearing on June 5. If the commissioners do so, the entire matter would be continued to June 19, when public testimony will be heard.

Commissioners did not hear public testimony during their work session on Tuesday, May 8.

State law empowers counties and cities to ban "exotic animals," defined as non-domestic cats and dogs, non-native bears, alligators and crocodiles, and primates. Beaverton has a similar ordinance and Hillsboro has a partial ban.

The proposed ban is not a land use regulation, but intended for health and safety.

Marni Kuyl, director of health and human services, said the county does conduct inspections based on public safety and animal welfare.

"But we are not experts on these kind of exotic animals," she said.

The proposed ban already contains exemptions for the Oregon Zoo — which is in Portland's Washington Park, and outside Washington County — and the Oregon National Primate Research Center in Beaverton.

There is no proposed exemption for pre-existing uses.

But one is sought by Walk on the Wild Side, a nonprofit that relocated last spring from Canby to a former horse farm near McKay Creek, south of Sunset Highway and north of Hillsboro.

The broader exemption would allow a one-year grace period for an application for professional certification, which if granted would last five years. But the Association of Zoos and Aquariums grants such certifications only when an operation is fully underway.

Commissioner Dick Schouten said the proposal may be the best way to resolve the issue.

"I want people to have the opportunity to have their program if they run their program with this accreditation in mind," he said.

If the application is not certified, however, the temporary exemption would no longer apply.

A county hearings officer is weighing a separate recommendation to impose penalties against Walk on the Wild Side for land-use violations, which are disputed by owners Steve Higgs and Cheryl Jones.

The ordinance, however, is a separate issue.

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