What Counts As An 'Exotic' Pet?
In the wake of Zanesville, Sandra Ward talks about how a new proposed law might impact more people than the state realizes
“This is so strange and sad,” wrote a friend on the link I'd posted about the incident in Zanesville.
Those words, strange and sad, are the perfect descriptors for what happened to 56 dangerous wild animals October 18 in Zanesville, about 155 miles south of Mentor, a two-and-a-half-hour drive.
The owner, Terry Thompson, cut open all the wire cages on his 73-acre farm before committing suicide. Then county deputies shot and killed 18 endangered Bengal tigers, nine lions, eight lionesses, six black bears, three mountain lions, two grizzly bears, two wolves and a baboon. A snow monkey was presumed eaten.
Most were killed within 500 yards of their cages.
All that could be saved were three leopards, two Celebes macaque monkeys and one young grizzly bear, taken to Columbus Zoo and Aquarium with the permission of the owner's wife, from whom he had separated, Marian.
Last Thursday Marian, legal counsel in tow, sent a livestock trailer to the zoo to pick up her animals, but a quarantine issued by the Ohio Department of Agriculture sent her home with no more than a visit.
The zoo has no legal right to keep these animals from Marian, who pleaded with authorities not to kill “my babies.”
She now has 30 days to appeal the quarantine decision, which presumes potential disease; last checked, she was weighing her options.
No federal law prohibits people from keeping wild animals as pets, and Ohio's permit system doesn't pay attention to owners who do not profit from their exotics.
Understandably, in a state that thrives on agriculture, the issue of telling farmers what animals they can and can't own gets sticky. What constitutes “exotic” also remains to be seen.
On the other hand, is there any good-enough reason – any at all? — that someone should need to keep an endangered species, or lions and their cubs for that matter, on an Ohio farmstead?
The Thompson farm had a record of animal abuse and neglect. But had Ohio legislators been more attentive, this ultimate act may not have ever happened.
On January 6 of this year, outgoing Ohio Governor Ted Strickland signed an emergency executive order banning private ownership of “big cats, bears, wolves, nonhuman primates, large constricting and venemous snakes and crocodilians” after a 24-year-old employee of an exotic animal farm in Columbia Township was killed by one of nine black bears he was feeding.
By his order, anyone owning these animals had to register them by May 1, then annually, and not breed, sell, trade or barter them going forward.
Incoming Governor John Kasich had 90 days to make it permanent. Instead, he told officials not to enforce it until further study of its effect on small businesses.
Kasich defended his decision by saying the executive order had not been thought through and lacked teeth. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources was also not a proper enforcement agency, the governer said.
Now, post-Zanesville, Kasich has finally signed an executive order directing state agencies to increase inspections of such exotic animal housing facilities and set up a public hotline to report unsafe situations. A state task force has also been asked to develop framework for a new exotic animal law by November 30, which state lawmakers will have to approve.
“When you see the kind of tragedy that happened in Muskingum County, you can’t look away from it,” he told The New York Times.
Which leads us to our next question: Sure, Bengals are exotic. But are all monkeys? My husband's grandpa had one, and his cousins had crocodiles for pets. What about raccoons and foxes? Exotic birds don't pose a threat to anybody, but do they count? How will this law affect the everyday Ohio pet owner?
I'll get some answers for you as they become available. Meanwhile, I'd like to hear from Mentorites with nontraditional pets. If that's you, hit me up at email@example.com or post a comment below.