Last month, I informed our readers of some proposed legislation being pushed against the reptile and the entire pet community. To follow that up I thought, who better to chat with than my good friend and president of the United States Association of Reptile Keepers, Phil Goss.
RS: Let’s start with how old you were and what first got you into keeping reptiles?
PG: I have always been fascinated by all animals, especially herps. I grew up in a very rural [part of] southern Indiana and field herping experiences sparked much reading and research concerning reptiles and amphibians. I continually had native herps that I would observe for a day or two and then release. My education advanced due to my interest in herps as I read all I could about them.
RS: First pet reptile?
PG: My first purchased pet snakes were a normal corn snake and a black and white banded kingsnake. My first breeding success was in 1997 with gold dust day geckos.
RS: What is the difference between your administration at USARK vs. the past?
PG: USARK has a huge battle. We are combating anti-pet groups that raise hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue. These groups pose as animal welfare groups and actually have an agenda to end all pet ownership and animal-related agriculture in America. USARK has supported other groups in the pet community.
All pet communities should be aware of what is happening. Big snakes and large mammals are not the only targets. These are just stepping stones for the anti-pet groups that will continue their attacks upon the bird, fish, small mammal, and even dog and cat communities.
RS: What is, if any, the relationship between USARK and PIJAC?
PG: USARK and PIJAC have a working relationship. PIJAC represents the entire pet industry while USARK concentrates on reptile and amphibian concerns.
RS: Why should pet stores support USARK?
PG: USARK is here to battle anti-herp legislation for everyone. This legislation does not only affect breeders and keepers, but also pet shops. As states and cities attempt to add laws and ordinances restricting species, pet shops feel it.
Many ordinances are poorly written by misinformed legislators. A key example is the language prohibiting “any constricting snake,” which is often included in ordinance drafts. That would make sales of corn snakes and kingsnakes illegal. USARK can assist pet shops that may be affected by local laws with our strong grassroots infrastructure.
RS: What does the organization offer members and nonmember reptile keepers?
PG: USARK fights to protect the freedoms of all herp keepers. We offer updates on legislative issues and provide easy steps to follow to contact legislators.
RS: What can hobbyists do to help out or support USARK?
PG: There are many ways to support USARK. The easiest method to support USARK and the entire herp community is to sign up for our email list at www.USARK.org and “like” our Facebook page. It is very important to utilize our email list, as important information may be missed by followers on Facebook. Hobbyists should spread awareness of USARK. There are 5 million households in America that have pet reptiles, and hundreds of thousands of people attend reptile shows annually. All these people need to know about USARK.
When issues arise, pet keepers, breeders and businesses must get involved. Our voices need to be heard to make a difference. Policymakers will simply listen to the anti-pet groups if pet keepers do not step up. Of course, USARK needs money to operate. Contributions can be made by becoming a paid member, buying shirts at reptile shows we attend, attending our benefit auctions or simply making donations.
We also need help sharing the USARK “Action Alerts.” This is very important. We can tell people how to get involved but we cannot make them. Supporting the herp community by spreading news and organizing is crucial.
RS: What is the biggest challenge facing us right now?
PG: We have many challenges. One of the biggest is becoming a united force and realizing that no pet species is safe. There is a true agenda to end all pet ownership in America. Laws will not stop with big snakes.
RS: How can we help?
PG: Get involved. You can join a local herp society or start one if one does not exist. Getting organized with others of like interests will build a stronger herp community. Local and state-level issues occur often. Pet owners should follow what topics are discussed at city council meetings and by state committees. Also, it is very important to be civil and professional when making any public comment or contacting legislators.
Public education is a huge aspect that has been overlooked by the herp community. This includes presentations at schools, informative letters sent to the media, and assistance with any educational outreach programs by herp societies. Spread facts and combat sensationalism by the media.
– Rob Stephenson