The Chattanooga Zoo has a new policy: No dogs.
"This board of directors is going to say no more dogs in the zoo," said Mickey Myers, a member of the board's executive committee and a veterinarian.
Pets in the zoo -- including animals owned or cared for by Zoo Director Darde Long -- have come into question after allegations that at least one of the most recent deaths of animals at the zoo may be tied to barking dogs.
Seven animals died at the zoo during a monthlong period over the holidays. During one of the Holiday Lights "pet night" events, a muntjac is believed to have been frightened by barking dogs.
The muntjac, a small Asian deer, was locked out of its shelter, appeared to have a seizure, fell into the frigid water of a koi pond and died, according to complaints filed with PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
While Myers said he doesn't think any animals at the zoo died from neglect, he acknowledged that the muntjac's death prompted the board's decision to end the popular admissions and fundraising events with dogs.
"The muntjac, I have a hard time defending that, the one that evidently died as a response to dog night. That's awful. That's horrible," he said.
"Other zoos [allow pet dogs in zoos], but should they? I can tell you right now this board of directors has said 'no' to that," Myers said.
Myers and board chairman Gary Chazen this week pledged to the Chattanooga City Council that the board takes seriously recent problems and animal deaths at the zoo and will "try to get to the bottom of it."
Pets and zoos
During the Holiday Lights event in December, visitors were invited to bring their pets for a stroll inside the Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park.
"Holiday Lights: Pet Night," stated the December email@example.com. "See the Chattanooga Zoo transformed into a magical winter wonderland! Visit the animals and Santa Claus, and enjoy holiday games and crafts. Bring your pets on Friday, Dec. 10, and Friday, Dec. 17."
Steve Feldman, spokesman for the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said the organization has no specific prohibition with pets in zoos. But AZA leaves the question up to individual zoos, he said.
But neither the St. Louis Zoo, Zoo Atlanta nor the Birmingham Zoo allow pets, with the exception of service animals such as Seeing Eye dogs.
Denise Wiggs, at the Birmingham Zoo, said keepers try to adhere to strict quarantine issues with zoo animals.
"Stray animals and pets can bring in germs and parasites," she said.
Dave Sacks, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said the Animal Welfare Act, which USDA enforces, contains no specific regulation regarding pet dogs at a zoo. But he said pets allowed in zoos can still cause problems and prompt animal-handling violations.
"If the dog came into close enough proximity to one or more regulated animals in the zoo, and/or caused any regulated animals behavioral stress or distress, it could be considered a handling violation of the Animal Welfare Act," Sacks said.
Debbie Leahy, director of PETA's captive animal rescue and enforcement, has criticized the Chattanooga Zoo's lockout events -- when animals are purposely locked out of their shelters so they'll stay on display -- and its policy of allowing visitors to bring in dogs.
"We're very concerned about animals being locked out on display," she said. "And we are troubled by reports that people were allowed to bring their dogs into the zoo, and the dogs were stressing out some of the animals."
Robin Derryberry, a zoo spokeswoman and board member of Friends of the Zoo, said the decision to end pet nights is not expected to impact zoo fundraising or admissions revenue.