Pet Peeves In The Suburban Jungle

(L-R) Felicity Huffman, Eva Longoria, Teri Hatcher and Marcia Cross attend the ABC Upfront presentation at Lincoln Center on May 15, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Evan Agostini
They are big, beautiful and unpredictable. Big cats are a big industry in the United States, with an estimated 15,000 exotic cats caged in backyards across the country, reports CBS News Correspondent Maureen Maher.

Jeremy Peterson keeps his tiger on a farm and does not need a license to own him nor are there any regulations or stipulations to owning the tiger.

Peterson's 2-year-old, 200-pound plus pet bengal is locked up in a 9-by-16-foot cage — where he'll keep the cat until he can build a bigger pen. He claims no one is in danger, including his 4-year-old daughter.

His neighbor Leah Frandsen disagrees. "It's hard to be in your own yard and not worry about something coming over that you don't stand a chance against."

She has reason to be afraid. Nearly three dozen violent attacks and incidents of escaped animals wandering neighborhood streets have been reported in the last five years.

It's perfectly legal to own an exotic animal according to the federal government, which only regulates commercial exhibits like zoos and breeders. In fact, the laws in most cities make it easier to own a tiger than a dog or domestic house cat.

When Ron DeHaven of the USDA was asked if he thought the government didn't have a responsibility to follow through after the breeding state, he said, "I don't think we have the authority or the responsibility - and as is typical with many government agencies, we just don't have the resources."

Owning A Pet Tiger
Only the 11 states listed below do not allow ownership of tigers in the U.S.:
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Nebraska
  • New Mexico
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Wyoming

    The remaining 39 states allow ownership of tigers with a permit or with no restrictions at all.

  • The responsibility to regulate exotic pets rests with the state. Thirty-nine states allow legal ownership of tigers with more than a dozen having no restrictions at all.

    And buying one is surprisingly easy — hundreds of backyard breeders advertise on the Internet. Eight-hundred dollars for an adult tiger and up to $2,500 for cubs.

    Bryan Werner says the majority of pet tigers are abused, neglected and end up in a refuge, like the one he runs in northeast Texas. "Once the tiger is bred and the baby is sold out the oor and it goes in the hands of an individual, there's no accountability."

    Months after the visit to Jeremy Peterson, there is still no new cage built and he now has a second tiger, a cub, inside the house. He says he cares for the animals and supports increased regulations, "as long as they're within reason."

    But for those who live nearby, there's already a good reason to keep exotic animals out of America's neighborhoods.

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