Tiger cubs die in house fire
3 wild animals die in Copley house fire
USDA investigating breeder’s business
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Plain Dealer Reporter
Copley Township- A black bear cub and two tiger cubs died inside their cages Wednesday morning as flames swept through the Summit County home of a wild-animal breeder, fire officials said.
The blaze consumed the residence of Lorenza Pearson, but did not damage the nearby pens of L&L Exotic Animal Farm, fire Chief Todd Chambers said. State records show Pearson held eight black bears on the property. Pearson’s son said 10 large cats – including lions and tigers – also share the property.
The fire comes two days after a 500-pound black bear escaped an Ashtabula County animal compound and mauled a 36-year-old woman, raising questions about the safety of wild-animal facilities.
Both businesses are under scrutiny by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, officials said Wednesday.
The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is investigating Mark Gutman’s Grand River Fur Exchange in Ashtabula’s Hartsgrove Township to determine whether the operation requires a federal license, said Robert Willems, an animal-care specialist.
Gutman breeds and sells a variety of wild animals, and he holds a state license that was renewed in March. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
A pending USDA case against Pearson claims numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act at his Copley Township farm, including inadequate housing for animals. The complaint covers a period between May 1998 and November 2001. A hearing before a federal administrative judge is set for next month in Akron.
In 2004, officials removed wild and exotic animals – including bears, tigers and lions – from Pearson’s farm after a judge deemed the operation a public nuisance. The issue involved the handling of animal waste.
In 1983, a 250-pound Bengal tiger that served as a pet killed Pearson’s 2-year-old son inside the family’s home.
Ohio law provides virtually no oversight of wild-animal breeders, a situation that has drawn increased attention following Monday’s bear escape in Ashtabula County. Statewide, there are 57 bear breeders with 130 bears, according to a report provided Wednesday by the Ohio Division of Wildlife.
Pearson’s farm is second in bear population. The largest is Sam Mazzola’s animal rescue center in Lorain County.
Pearson declined to comment Wednesday. His son, Lorenza Pearson Jr., 30, of Bath Township said operations like L&L Exotic Animal Farm can be safe "if it’s done right."
Plain Dealer reporter Steve Luttner contributed to this story.
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