Reverend fears exotic animal legislation could shutter menagerie ministry

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR) – There is no grey area when you talk to Jim Lavender about his church or his animals.

“My ministry and animals are inseparable,” Reverend Lavender said from the compound where he houses his more than two-dozen exotic animals.

For three decades, the reverend has used his animals as part of his children’s sermon and ministry at Discovery United Methodist Church.

As the congregation crew, so did the animal ministry where he and his wife often travel the Commonwealth and across the country with the animals, to help out other churches.

Lavender said he was thrilled to take his experience and voice to a state panel, now looking at legislation dealing with wild and exotic animals.

The panel is a result of last October’s incident in Ohio, where a man released his exotic animals before committing suicide. When it was finally over, 49 of his animals had to be killed for the public’s safety.

Gov. Bob McDonnell wants to make sure that can’t happen in the Commonwealth.

However, Lavender said Virginia already has a series of laws dealing with wild animals, but that he welcomes common sense laws that ensures human safety, makes sure certain animals are well cared for and humanely managed. He also said the laws should take into consideration ownership considerations for educational and “legitimate entertainment.”

As a result, Lavender invited General Assembly members to a Harvest Festival this Sunday in hopes of helping the legislators better understand his involvement with th exotic beasts. That way, the members can see exactly what he does with his animals before voting on a law.

However, Hurricane Sandy has nixed this weekend’s festival. Nonetheless, it has been rescheduled for Nov. 11.

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