Some stories about overregulation suffer from too much technical detail and not enough clarity to connect with readers. That’s not the case with the US Department of Agriculture’s attempt to regulate — magicians. Any entertainment act using animals must have an approved disaster plan in place, even if the animals are ferocious, dangerous … bunnies:
Marty Hahne, 54, does magic shows for kids in southern Missouri. For his big finale, he pulls a rabbit out of a hat. Or out of a picnic basket. Or out of a tiny library, if he’s doing his routine about reading being magical.
To do that, Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit.
The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller “animal exhibitors,” even the humble one-bunny magician.
That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan.
“Fire. Flood. Tornado. Air conditioning going out. Ice storm. Power failures,” Hahne said, listing a few of the calamities for which he needed a plan to save the rabbit.
Ironically, the USDA — which is supposed to focus on protecting the food supply — wouldn’t require anything at all if Hahne wanted to eat the rabbit. Hahne confirmed this with the USDA inspector that licensed the rabbit and demanded his disaster plan for it, as well as his itineraries. Yes, itineraries. If Hahne travels with his rabbit, he has to inform the USDA of his itineraries to let them know where the rabbit will go.
By the way, none of this is for the safety of Hahne or his audiences. The USDA isn’t concerned with human safety in this case, which is rather interesting. When I lived in Phoenix 20 years ago, a strip club opened next to my office (a major headache for a 24/7 operation that I won’t detail at the moment), and one act featured a tiger that was supposedly tame. Why anyone would bring a tiger into a boozy strip club is beyond me, but it leaped off the stage and mauled a couple of patrons, and made the evening news.
You’d think something like that would trigger a demand for tighter licensing of animal acts, but that wasn’t the catalyst for this law. No, this regulation came from Hurricane Katrina, in which thousands of animals were abandoned and left to die in the attempt by businesses and residents to flee the destruction. Apparently, a disaster plan would have prevented that, according to the USDA, even though New Orleans couldn’t even get the humans evacuated properly.
The Post reports that Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack is recommending that this regulation get suspended for further review, but so far the regulation remains in force. That means that the rest of us can be entertained by Hahne’s new act, which is to pull a disaster plan and itinerary out of his hat along with the rabbit. It beats watching Washington pull regulations out of its ass.