Bill bans owning most wild critters in Ohio

Avatar BCR | April 26, 2012 1 View 0 Likes 0 Ratings

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Buying a lion, tiger, bear or elephant would be banned in Ohio starting on Jan. 1, 2014.


Capuchin and howler monkeys? They’d be restricted, too.


However, current owners of all those wild animals and dozens of other exotic species would be able to keep them for as long as the animals live — if they follow a complicated set of new rules.


Snakes, even poisonous ones, are permitted, unless they’re really big snakes 12 feet or longer, and can continue to be bought, sold and bred.


Then there are exemptions: Obie the Massillon tiger cub and service monkeys.


There was barely a whimper yesterday, after months of packed hearings in which animal owners roared their disapproval, as the Ohio Senate voted 30-1 to approve legislation restricting ownership of exotic wild animals. The bill now heads to the House.


“I’m pretty happy with that,” Kasich said of the measure. “We don’t want to have a situation where people continue to have lions, and bears, and tigers on their front lawn. I mean, they can have artificial lions and tigers and bears on their front lawn. Carvings. But no more real ones. No more live animals, and (the bill is) a transition to getting us there.”


“This has been a rough bill for all of us,” said Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 310. But he said public input from six hearings during which dozens of witnesses testified helped produce a bill that is “a good balance between public safety and the preservation of personal property.”


Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, said he supports the bill because “we never want our law enforcement or the public in that situation again.”


The “situation” happened Oct. 18 when the release of dozens of wild animals near Zanesville focused world attention on Ohio. Terry W. Thompson freed lions, tigers, bears, monkeys and wolves on his Muskingum County property and then committed suicide; 48 animals were killed by deputies to protect the public.


The resulting outcry pushed the state to come up with an initial proposal for an outright ban on private ownership of exotic animals. That approach quickly changed, however, to grandfather in current owners. That will allow most owners to keep their animals if they register them, pay permit fees, implant identifying microchips in the animals’ skin, obtain insurance and construct proper facilities.


“There are some good animal owners out there,” Balderson said yesterday after a Senate committee voted 9-0 for the measure. He estimated that 90 percent of the animal owners in the state will meet the requirements of the new law and be able to keep their animals.


“The state of Ohio does not want to take care of these animals. We have nowhere to put them, nowhere else to take them,” he said.If unlicensed animal owners refuse to get rid of them by 2014, local humane societies have the job of enforcing the law — with the fate of the exotic animals unknown. Local zoo officials already have made it clear they cannot take any.


Sen. Kris Jordan, a Republican from Delaware, cast the lone vote on the Senate floor against the bill because it punishes “99 percent of the people to go after the 1 percent.” Jordan said even if the law had been in effect before the Zanesville incident, “it wouldn’t have stopped him (Thompson) from his craziness.”


In recent weeks, Balderson’s bill was amended multiple times, including allowing most snake owners to not only keep, but also breed and acquire new animals.


Among the exceptions granted was one for educational institutions with a “single dangerous wild animal as a sports mascot.” That applies only to Massillon Washington High School, which features a tiger cub, always named Obie, caged on the sidelines each football season. The cub — a new one arrives each year — has been a tradition since 1970.


On Tuesday, Balderson’s bill was amended to exclude specially trained service monkeys that assist severely disabled people with personal and household tasks.


Dispatch reporter Joe Vardon contributed to this story.


By Alan Johnson

The Columbus Dispatch Thursday April 26, 2012 4:01 AM

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