Governor Kasich Backs Ban on Big Cats in Ohio

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Growly Kasich backs exotic-animal ban

Max the cougar snarling

ORLANDO, Fla. — Ohio residents have “no excuse” for owning exotic wild animals, Gov. John Kasich said, challenging fellow Republican lawmakers who question the need for a full ban.

“Unless they are a sanctuary, unless they’re connected to a zoo, unless they’re an official breeder and they are registered, there is no reason for them to have these animals,” Kasich told The Dispatch yesterday.

“Why would you have a mountain lion? Why would you have a grizzly bear?” Kasich said. “You want to go see a grizzly bear? Go to the zoo. Go up for a hike up in Glacier Park, and pray you don’t see one.”

Kasich, who is attending the Republican Governors Association conference in Orlando, made it clear that he expects reluctant lawmakers to support the proposed ban, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2014. He made his comments a day after receiving formal recommendations from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and a special study committee.

Meanwhile, two interest groups staked out very different positions on the proposal. The Humane Society of the U.S. generally supports the measure, and the Ohio Association of Animal Owners opposes it.

The Republican governor declined to criticize Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, and Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville. Balderson, the likely sponsor of the legislation, opposes a ban entirely, while Niehaus is concerned about a provision that would allow restricted animals to be seized and confiscated if they are not surrendered by 2014.

“This is not about private property,” Kasich countered. “This is about public safety.”

Kasich said there could be more than 500 big cats in private owners’ hands in Ohio now and the state doesn’t have the capacity to house them — one of the reasons he supports the two-year delay before a full ban takes effect.

Saying he’s worked extensively on the proposal with Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Kasich promised to “scrub down” the recommendations, make them tougher and deliver legislation to the General Assembly soon. Lawmakers will hear from Hanna, the Humane Society and other influential groups that support the ban, Kasich said.

Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, said he expects hearings on the bill will start in January.

Wayne Pacelle, head of the Humane Society of the U.S., said he is encouraged by the recommendations: “While there remain some open questions for the legislature to resolve, the recommendations make it clear that dangerous exotic animals have no business in private backyards and basements. What’s needed … are strong rules to ban auctions, to stop casual ownership and to limit private possession of these animals to accredited zoos and sanctuaries.”

Polly Britton, representing the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, said her group opposes an outright ban on exotic animals and wants to see exemptions expanded for legitimate Ohio animal businesses.

Britton said she doesn’t want to think about what owners might be forced to do if the law passes and they have to get rid of their animals in two years.

“If they haven’t been able to sell them or give them away prior to that date, I don’t see any alternative other than to let the state confiscate and kill them,” Britton said.

The banned species list include panthers, hyenas, lions, tigers, primates, elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, hippopotamuses, crocodiles, pythons, boa constrictors and gray wolves.

Owners would not have to get rid of animals on the list before 2014, but they would have to register them within 60 days of the effective date of the law. Animals not sold or moved out of state by the deadline would be “subject to immediate confiscation and forfeiture,” under the proposal.

Public auctions of “dangerous wild animals” would be prohibited.

There would be “civil and criminal penalties for improper release, illegal possession and other violations,” the report said.

The Oct. 18 incident that sparked a national uproar over exotic pets in Ohio — when Terry W. Thompson set 56 lions, tigers, leopards, bears and primates free at his Muskingum County home before killing himself — was a “tragedy” that “could have been a full-blown disaster had one of those animals attacked a child on the playground,” the governor said.

Law-enforcements officials were forced to shoot 48 animals. Two others were presumed eaten by larger animals. Six survivors are being held in quarantine at the Columbus Zoo.

 By  Joe Vardon  and  Alan Johnson
 Friday December 2, 2011 6:49 AM

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