The City Council gave small animals with the ability to soar through the sky and steal the hearts of Madisonians approval to be household pets at its meeting Tuesday night.

Sugar gliders originated in Australia and are a member of the marsupial family, according to Ald. Sue Ellingson, District 13. She compared sugar gliders as pets to ferrets and explained they are larger than mice but smaller than rats.

A community of loving owners of sugar gliders has already developed in Madison, according to Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, and more residents would like them to be legal so they can own them. 

According to Ellingson, an original city ordinance prohibits marsupials of all kinds. The ordinance is grounded in the idea that owning these types of animals is often cruel to the animal because people do not know how to take care of them and are unsure what to do when they have to give them up, she said.

Resnick said the council redefined which marsupials should be allowed in Madison. Other marsupials, such as kangaroos and opossums, remain illegal to own as pets, he said.

The county was already planning to change the law, Ellingson said, and the Department of Public Health and Dane County wanted the law to be the same for the city and the county.

The exemption was introduced by Ald. Matthew Phair, District 20, and was put to a voice vote, in which a majority of the council members voted in favor of the change.

At the meeting, Ellingson vocally opposed creating an exemption to the ordinance. She gave a testimony in which she emphasized the environmental risk of allowing sugar gliders to exist as pets in the Madison community.

It is impossible to know what is going to happen when an exotic species of any kind is brought into a different environment, Ellingson said. If an exotic animal escapes, we do not know what they are going to do, she said. She cited pythons in the Everglades as an example of a potential consequence.

Opponents of the change compared sugar gliders to an invasive species. The main argument voiced against the exemption was that on principle, invasive species should not be allowed into the city or county, Resnick said.

“The risk [to the] environment is not worth it,” Ellingson said. “We should not be allowing exotic plants, animals or insects into our community.”

According to Ellingson, some arguing for the exemption said sugar gliders specifically did not pose a significant environmental threat. Council members argued no one sees hamsters and gerbils running around the city on their own, she said.

Resnick said the council members who supported the change did so because they viewed sugar gliders as fairly harmless creatures.

He said he was in favor of the exemption from the ordinance because the marsupials would not be able to survive in the wild on their own.

“Sugar gliders would not be able to survive Madison winters,” Resnick said.

While the exemption allows everyone to own a sugar glider if they want to, Ellingson said she does not anticipate a lot of people having the pets.