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Proposal made to tame ownership of exotic animals

A task-force developed by Gov. John Kasich has produced a proposal that will ban the private ownership of many exotic animals in Ohio.

The proposed legislation would not allow ownership or possession of restricted species in Ohio after Jan. 1, 2014, unless the owner meets the listed and limited exceptions and can demonstrate that the animals will be cared for and contained in the correct facilities, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The task-force proposal stems from the Oct. 18 suicide of wild-animal owner Terry Thompson of Zanesville, Ohio, after he released 56 wild animals including bears, lions, monkeys, tigers.

Forty-nine of the animals were killed by police, including 18 Bengal tigers, 17 lions, six black bears, a pair of grizzlies, three mountain lions, two wolves and a baboon.

Tim Harrison, a former Oakwood, Ohio, police officer, firefighter and paramedic, operates the company Outreach for Animals, an advocacy program for behavior around wildlife. He said that 2014 is not good enough.

“I would like to have an executive order written right now, like the one Gov. (Ted) Strickland had, that says no private individual can buy, sell or breed any exotic animal,” Harrison said.

Kasich let an executive order by Strickland that banned wild-animal ownership lapse upon entering office.

Harrison said that ownership of these kinds of animals is difficult, and that private citizens, for the most part, do not have the resources to own them.

“Even professionals have a hard time dealing with escaped animals,” Harrison said. “Why are we giving average people a chance to keep something dangerous next to your home?”

Polly Britton, a legislative agent for the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, was the voice in favor of exotic pet ownership on the task force.

“We’re not at all pleased with the way things have gone so far,” Britton said.

The task force has been meeting since last June to come up with reasonable regulations for exotic animal ownership.

After the incident in Zanesville, Kasich got more involved.

“All of our good plans went out the window. There was a knee-jerk reaction to Zanesville that turned everything upside down,” Britton said.

The task force had its final meeting when the proposal was presented to them on Nov. 21, by ODNR. They were presented with the executive summary and offered a chance to ask questions but make no changes to the proposal.

Britton said there was talk of grandfathering the animals for the life of the animals but now there is a cut-off of two years, meaning those animals will likely end up getting killed.

“There are casual owners and there are business owners who have those types of animals and the way it’s looking right now is all those people as of Jan. 1, 2014, will have to dispose of any of the animals on the list of restricted species,” Britton said.

The people that have exotic animals now will have to meet the new requirements and can keep the animals until January 2014, but on that date the animals must be gone, no matter how many permit requirements they have met.

“If it were truly a public safety concern or an animal welfare concern, then anyone who meets the requirements should be able to keep them, period,” Britton said.

The Ohio Association of Animal Owners is requesting that anyone who meets the requirements and continues to meet them keep the animals forever. They are also asking for an exemption for the regulations for those animal businesses that are already federally licensed and inspected.

“Waiting until 2014 gives the owners the chance to dispose of the animals themselves. The government wants them out of Ohio and they don’t want to have to inspect them beyond 2014 because they don’t want to spend the money to do it,” Britton said. “The question of the day is, ‘Where are they going to go? Will they be euthanized?’ We don’t know.”

Kasich will now sign a bill from the proposal submitted.

“The battle ahead of us now is in the legislature, the real fight now will be in the House and Senate when a bill is introduced and that has not happened,” Britton said.

Delcianna Winders, director of captive law enforcement for PETA, worries that because it is just a proposal, there is no certainty to see what the law will actually become.

“If people are going to be keeping the animals then the most important thing would be for the agency to implement very strict safety and welfare standards,” Winders said. “We really need high standards to ensure that these animals are properly cared for.”

Winders would like to see animals that may be taken away sent to a Global Federated Animal Sanctuary.

“They can live out their lives in a natural setting, there are other options for the animals and if the owners really care and want the best for them, they will let them go to a reputable facility that’s equipped to care for them,” Winders said.

Harrison said Ohio is the state with the worst exotic animal regulations, with Missouri close behind. Harrison also said he has been on many police calls involving escaped animals, and believes strongly they should not be owned for one reason.

“I’ve never had a happy ending,” Harrison said. “People want to own all these animals but they have to understand if a tiger gets loose, it doesn’t understand and will walk wherever it wants. It doesn’t know any different.”

Harrison said that the end result is never good for the animal.

“Take it from a police officer, firefighter or paramedic — it’s always the police officer who comes in, not Jack Hanna,” Harrison said. “It’s always the cops and they’re not trained to take care of this.”


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