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Back yard wildlife allowed, but what of the neighbors?

Now that I have a house, I think I'll fulfill a lifelong dream to raise hammerhead sharks in my back yard.

I could build a swimming pool, fill it with saltwater and truck in a couple of breeder sharks. I'll have to build a fence to keep out cats and children, of course. Good fences make good neighbors, even if sharks don't.

Sharks will be fun, but they don't make enough noise. So I'll buy half a dozen geese. They'll honk up a storm, especially if they get too close to the pool.

Soon honks and splashes will lull me and my neighbors to sleep.

First, let me assure my neighbors that those plans are made tongue-in-cheek. Who would even dream of raising sharks and geese in a Pinellas County back yard? I would have said no one, if it had not been for a couple of court rulings last week.

In the first one, County Judge Radford Smith said Vernon Yates was within his rights to keep more than 50 wild animals _ including tigers, bears and alligators _ in his back yard near Seminole. Neither the neighbors, who complain of blood-curdling lion roars, odor and fear of escaped animals, nor the county have legal standing to complain. The county thought Yates, whose property is zoned for agriculture despite its proximity to condominiums, should have to seek its permission to have more than a few cows and chickens in his back yard. But the state alone has the authority to regulate wildlife, Judge Smith said.

The Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission gave Yates the necessary permits saying he met state standards, which focus on the size and construction of cages. State game officials are concerned about animals' living conditions, but apparently not about humans' living conditions in the neighborhood.

In the second case, County Judge Henry J. Andringa said Macarena Rose could keep four emus at her house just outside St. Petersburg. An emu is a large, flightless bird from Australia, similar to an ostrich.

Although Rose lives on land zoned residential, she is entitled to have emus reside with her because the state game commission has jurisdiction over the birds, not the county, Judge Andringa said. Rose has a state permit for her pet birds, named Bill, Bridgette, Big Bird and Baby Bird.

Two judges ruling the same in two different cases must be reading state law correctly. That means the law needs to be changed. There are many reasons to do so.

Animal rights activists can argue that tigers and emus belong in their natural settings or well-managed zoos, not as pets in cages. Property rights activists can argue that when an individual can destroy the peace and quiet, not to mention the property values, in his neighborhood, the greater good needs to be protected.

Those rugged individualists who want a gun in every pocket, a burning cigarette on every restaurant table and a tiger in every back yard can't win all the battles.

Under the law as now written, if someone could clone a Tyrannosaurus Rex, they could put him out back with the dogs as long as they had a permit.

Okay, that is an exaggeration. But after the rulings in Pinellas County court this week, not much of an exaggeration.

Let's bring common sense back into these matters, even if it means changing state law.