Lions and tigers and bears…as pets? Oh, my!
The bear stuck out its tongue, greedily accepted the food, and grunted for more.
"Here you go. Here you go," the 65-year-old Hoch cooed to the hulking mammal.
For Hoch, it's just an everyday task. He and his wife, Barbara, have kept Jakie, a 350-pound female American black bear, in their Earl Township backyard for 25 years.
Earl Township has no ordinance prohibiting residents from owning exotic pets such as Jakie. And under state law, it's perfectly legal to own bears, lions, tigers and the like as long as the owner obtains a permit from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
But that may soon change if a Senate bill introduced in March wins support in the state Legislature.
If passed, the bill would prohibit private ownership of exotic wildlife, including bears, big cats, primates and other potentially dangerous animals. People who already have such pets would be allowed to keep them, as long as they have a permit.
"I think it's cruel to house wild animals," said Judy Schwank, a Ruscombmanor Township Democrat. "They are just not suited for living in confinement in a nonprofessional situation. This is why zoos were invented."
"These animals need specific care and treatment that the average person cannot provide," said Nicole Paquette of the Humane Society of the United States. "These animals don't belong in people's basements, backyards."
Thirty-three states have more stringent laws regarding ownership of exotic pets than Pennsylvania, Paquette said.
When the Hochs applied for a permit, they were told to build a cage large enough for the bear to comfortably live in - 12 feet high, 12 feet wide and 25 feet long. The cage is also required to have a bathtub for fresh water and an igloo-like brick structure in which Jakie hibernates during the winter.
Neither of the Hochs had ever worked at a zoo or an animal clinic before owning a bear, but Barry said he felt confident in his abilities to care for a bear, since he grew up on an Oley Township farm with many animals.
Jakie was just 9 weeks old and 5 pounds when they adopted her.
Earl Township supervisor John Hetrick said he's aware of the Hochs' pet bear and that as far as he knows, there have been no issues associated with the animal.
Neighbors Bob and Kay Wouse said they've never feared the furry creature next door.
"She's my buddy," Bob Wouse said. "I take watermelon to her, just about every day."
But owning the bear hasn't been an entirely unblemished experience for the Hochs.
While the bear has never hurt a visitor, Barry said, she's shown some signs of aggression.
From time to time, Barry will place a toy in the cage. The latest was a metal pole, which Jakie ripped out of the ground within a few days.
When asked if he supports the legislation, Barry Hoch reflected on the past years with Jakie.
"It's taking rights away from people, but I can understand this," he said. "You're committed for life when you get an animal like this."
His wife agreed.
"The people nowadays don't take care of anything," Barbara said. "So just like with the snakes and alligators they get how many of them get tired of them? Why are they all loose and running around? Cause they let them go."
Critical thinking challenge: Should Barry be allowed to keep his bear? Should his neighbors have any say in the matter? Why or why not?
- Posted on September 15, 2013