POSTED: 8:25 pm EDT March 31, 2007
MOUNT HOPE, Ohio — Three times a year, folks who decide they just have to own a monkey or a bear can bid on one at an exotic animal auction in northeast Ohio’s Amish country.
The animals come with a veterinary certificate and are looked at by government inspectors, but the moment the bidding closes it’s up to the owners to feed and contain the beasts.
Neither Ohio nor federal law regulates owning an exotic animal, although a state lawmaker has proposed a permit program in response to recent attacks on owners and their neighbors.
Animal rights activists say the unregulated ownership of wild and exotic animals can risk the safety of humans and the well-being of the animals. But the state is powerless to step in.
“Why people would want to buy those kinds of animals is beyond me,” said Doug Miller of the Ohio Division of Wildlife. “If someone in Lakewood decides they want a monkey in their house, they can have it.”
For many of the 5,000 attendees, the three-day auction here in Holmes County, 60 miles south of Cleveland, is a worthwhile spectacle if not a real shopping trip. The air is filled with the sounds and smells of roaring bobcats, barking zebras and hissing otters.
“I would not buy one, but where else can you get this close to these animals?” said June Wagner, of Canton, as she looked in the cage of a bush baby, which is one of the smallest primates and looks like a squirrel with huge front-set eyes.
The animals are supplied to the auction from private owners and go for about $100 to several thousand dollars, cage included. An auction flier reminds the winning bidders that they’re immediately responsible for giving their purchases food and water.
“We’re hearing report after report of people being hurt by animals that should not be considered pets,” said Lisa Wathney, spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an animal rights group. “Many of the animals sold in Ohio will end up confined in cages in back yards or basements. They will live out abysmal, boring lives if something worse does not happen to them.”
A message seeking comment was left Saturday for Steve Mullet, owner of the Mid-Ohio auction. People who answered the phone said he was busy with sales, and they declined to comment.
No state bans owning exotic animals, but a few communities such as Cleveland do. The city ordinance bans dozens of specific pets including lions, tigers, camels, hippos, coyotes, wolves and bears.
State Rep. George Distel, a Conneaut Democrat, in February reintroduced his bill that the Republican-controlled Legislature did not take up last session. It would require people possessing dangerous wild or exotic animals to obtain a permit and establish safety requirements such as fencing and warning signs on properties where the animals are housed.
Tamara Dulaney, who last year bought a 6-week-old wolf at the auction, allows the animal inside her house in Wintersville but makes it sleep in a kennel in her yard protected with an electric fence.
“I had no idea how destructive she would be,” Dulaney said. “She chewed up everything in and out of her house. She’s not mean, just playful.
“I can’t believe people who buy dangerous animals like bears and don’t have a clue of how to handle them.”
This year, Dulaney said, she was interested in bidding only on some Halloween crabs.