Nobody knows how many or what non-native wild animals are kept as house pets because no regulatory agency in Ohio keeps records on them.
Neighbors and the rest of the public find out about them when they escape, wreaking fear, panic or harm.
In a signed agreement earlier this year with the Humane Society of the United States, Gov. Ted Strickland promised rules banning ownership and sale of exotic animals in Ohio. Additionally, new rules will allow the state to remove animals from owners who behave irresponsibly.
The rules, now being drafted, will bar animals that are “wild and dangerous,” but the list hasn’t been finalized. It will be developed after input from public, experts and others on the issue, said Mike Shelton, Ohio Department of Natural Resources spokesman.
Many cities, including Dayton, already ban exotic pets.
Mark Kumpf, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, said that in his time, he’s chased snakes, alligators, serval cats like the one that just escaped its home in Clark County, and other inappropriate pets.
“It’s about public safety and humane treatment of animals,” he said. “The proper place for a bear is not in someone’s backyard. In fact, it shouldn’t be a pet at all.”
Harold Brown, director of Greene County Animal Control, agrees. He counts wolf hybrids and bears among the animals that have caused problems in his county recently.
“They should only be kept by zoos for educational purposes,” Brown said. “They should be controlled and prohibited.”
An incident in Lorain County in August rallied critics of Ohio’s loose laws. There, a pet black bear owned by Sam Mazzola attacked and killed a man feeding it. Mazzola, now undergoing a court-ordered mental exam, had a permit for the bear from the state. He also owns wolves, tigers and a lion.
Ohio does keep a record of native wild animals kept as pets and, for now, issues permits for them. The number includes 89 black bears as well as various numbers of bobcats and venomous snakes including timber rattlesnakes and copperheads.
Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society CEO, said the Lorain County death “demonstrates the need for immediate action to prohibit private ownership of dangerous wild animals in the state.” He added: “Other states have taken action, but Ohio has been one of the outliers, putting both public safety and the welfare of the animals at risk.”
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