Mauled man 'trusted animals'
Township to revisit bylaw banning exotic, dangerous pets after resident's savage death
Published On Tue Jan 12 2010
SOUTHWOLD, ONT.–To folks in this rural community near St. Thomas, Norm Buwalda was as much a curiosity as the exotic animals he kept as giant pets.
Neighbours along the township's Second Line didn't much care for the two lions, two tigers and a cougar he kept in a screened-in outbuilding. They say he kept pretty much to himself and didn't take much part in community life.
So when the 66-year-old Dutch native was fatally mauled by one of his 300-kilogram tigers Sunday, the irony wasn't lost on them that Buwalda had fought and successfully overturned a township bylaw that would have banned such exotic animals from the area.
"He told us once that he trusted animals more than he trusted people," neighbour Joanne Does said Monday. "He felt closer to animals than people.
"He appeared like a bully ... but he was a very sad man, lonely I think."
Does was among area residents who lobbied township councillors in 2002 to pass a bylaw banning exotic beasts from private property. She said Buwalda's lion cub was seen running with dogs in the neighbourhood at the time.
Council didn't act until after a 10-year-old Toronto boy visiting Buwalda was mauled by a tiger in 2004. A two-year court battle ensued and Buwalda's lawyers finally convinced a judge to overturn the township ban.
Mayor Jim McIntyre said it's time to try again to write a bulletproof bylaw to keep exotic creatures from local properties in the township, 30 kilometres southwest of London. He planned to pitch the idea to council Monday night.
"It a shock to the community," he told the Star. "I think the courts were wrong in overturning our bylaw. For us it was all about public safety."
OPP Const. Troy Carlson said police were awaiting the results of an autopsy. He said Buwalda's animals were left in his family's care and would not be seized by authorities.
A man at Buwalda's home refused to say what the family would do with the animals and ordered a Star reporter from the property.
The World Society for the Protection of Animals said Buwalda's death should serve as a warning of the dangers of owning exotic animals. Ontario is the only province that doesn't require a licence to keep dangerous exotic animals, the society added.
Melissa Matlow, the society's programs officer in Canada, said his death could have been prevented if Queen's Park had banned the keeping of dangerous exotic pets when it recently revised the OSPCA Act.
"It should be restricted to only people who are keeping professional facilities and can ensure the animal's welfare and the public safety," she said, adding dangerous animals such as tigers are not suitable pets.
"You need a licence to keep a gun – you don't need a licence to keep a tiger in your backyard and that's just inadequate for public safety."
Patricia England can hear the big cats roar from her home, half a kilometre from Buwalda's property.
"It's sad, terribly sad," she said. "He told us his animals wouldn't hurt a fly – and now this.
"We're all beings on this planet and we all have a place, but this isn't the place for wild animals.
"It's not the animal's fault. It was just doing what a tiger does."