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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – An Oklahoma family is frustrated and heartbroken after the Oklahoma Wildlife Department told them they had two choices: return a coyote they’ve raised since it was a pup to the wild or have it put down.

“They might be predatory hunters, but she’s not a predator,” said Morgan Hensley. “It’s about how you raise them and things like that.”

Hensley told KFOR she was gaining a tight bond with their coyote, Jersey, who she says​ is domesticated. 

“[She] and I would sit on the stairs and share donut holes,” said Hensley. 

For 10 months, Hensley’s father, Carl Sandifer, the Rattlesnake and Venom Museum owner, has raised Jersey and other wild animals.

Jersey the coyote
Jersey the Coyote

“People would come and see. They wanted to see her, especially she had a bond with autistic children. It was very amazing how it happened,” said Carl Sandifer. 

Under Carl’s wildlife breeder’s license, he can legally raise Jersey.

The Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation told KFOR it’s not Sandifer’s license that’s the problem, it’s where Jersey’s from.

Officials told KFOR she was illegally obtained.​

“So, a frequent visitor to the museum said, ‘Hey, I’ve found this coyote. Would you guys want it?'” said Sandifer. 

The visitor’s lack of a commercial breeder license and Jersey not having proper documentation are two reasons the Wildlife Department told KFOR Jersey couldn’t stay under the family’s care.

According to an email obtained by Hensely, wildlife officials gave the family choice: release Jersey to the wild, or she’ll be put down.

“I don’t believe in killing an animal just because it’s an animal. She’s not a threat. She’s not dangerous by any means,” said Hensley.

“I am confused with the law,” said Sandifer. “But it says right in there, you know, there is an exception if unless deemed by the wildlife department that she could be here.” 

KFOR asked the Department of Wildlife about that exception. 

“I mean, they’ve given us an exception before,” said Hensley.

Col. Nathan Erdman with the Department of Wildlife told KFOR coyotes are specifically excluded from a list of animals that can be domesticated, and it’s the law.

According to the Oklahoma Statutes,

Domesticated animal means any animal kept for pleasure or for utility, that has adapted to life in association with and to the use by human beings, and shall not include animals which normally can be found in the wild state, unless specifically so designated by the Oklahoma Wildlife Conservation Commission.

§ 800:25-25-2

The following wildlife species are exempt from import and export permits, commercial wildlife breeders licenses, noncommercial wildlife breeders licenses and commercial hunting area license requirements:

  1. Alpacas, guanacos and vicuans
  2. Bison
  3. Camels
  4. Cats (except native cats and bears)
  5. Cattle
  6. Chickens
  7. Chinchillas.
  8. Dogs (except coyotes and native foxes)
  9. Exotic tropical fish
  10. Ferrets (except black-footed, Mustela nigripes)
  11. Gerbils
  12. Goats
  13. Guinea pigs
  14. Hamsters
  15. Hedgehogs
  16. Horse, donkeys and mules
  17. Llamas
  18. Mice (except those species normally found in the wild)
  19. Native invertebrates (except crayfish and all freshwater mussels including Zebra mussel and Asian clam)
  20. Peafowl
  21. Pigeons
  22. Migratory waterfowl not listed as protected by Federal Regulation 50
  23. Pigs except javelinas
  24. Rabbits (except cottontails, jackrabbits and swamp rabbits, and other such species normally found in the wild)
  25. Rats (except those species normally found in the wild)
  26. Salt water crustaceans and mollusks (import for human consumption)
  27. Sheep (except dall and bighorn sheep, Ovis sp.)
  28. Turkeys (except Rio Grande, Eastern, Merriam and Osceola or any subspecies)
  29. Zebras
  30. Gerboa
  31. Sugar gliders
  32. Civits
  33. Wallaby
  34. Kangaroo
  35. Fennec Fox
  36. Coatimundi
  37. Primates

“Coyotes are on the list as not being a domesticated animal. There is nothing to investigate, they have no paperwork showing where the coyote came from a legal source (which can not be from the wild), so they can not keep it under their license,” Col. Erdman said in a statement. “Those are the laws we are discussing when answering your questions. It is not an opinion of ours, we are simply relating what the laws say on the matter. If you have more questions that are not covered by the laws above, please let me know. “

“She’s not a giant grizzly bear. She’s not a puma,” said Sandifer. “She’s not something like that that would need a big cage.”

Hensley told KFOR that Jersey was taken to an animal sanctuary, but the Department of Wildlife was uncomfortable with that situation.

“We’re trusted to care for an alligator, but not a coyote. Why mammal versus reptile?” said Hensley. “It’s legal to fly around in an airplane in Oklahoma and shoot a coyote, but it’s not okay to keep it in public and educate them.”

According to Hensley, the pet is now at a wild animal rehabilitator who has determined she​ can’t be rehabbed and released.

She told News 4 the state​ is ordering her to be put down.

The facility would not confirm or deny whether that Jersey was there or if the animal was put down.