(ANIMAL LAWS) A law concerning exotic animal ownership in Ohio has private owners up in arms. Ohio has had its share of controversy over exotic animal laws ever since 48 animals were killed after a man convicted of animal cruelty released his veritable zoo and then shot himself in 2011. The incident brought about a law which more strictly regulates the possession of wild animals. A federal judge in Columbus decided to uphold the law last year, but owners still appealed it, claiming the law violates the First and Fifth Amendments. It seems the problem lies with owners not willing to cooperate with zoological groups in order to meet the new requirements. Read on to find out more about the ongoing debate. — Global Animal
A highway sign warning cars to watch out for exotic animals after 51 were let loose in Ohio in 2011. Photo credit: bloomberg.com

Huffington Post, Julie Car Smyth and Ann Sanner

Some owners of exotic animals say a new Ohio law is onerous and infringes on their constitutional rights, and they’ve asked a federal appeals court to strike it down.

The private owners argue in a brief filed Friday that the law violates the First and Fifth Amendments, by limiting their freedom of association and effectively taking their property by requiring them to implant microchips in their animals at their own expense before being registered with the state.

They argue the law includes impossible hurdles that leave owners who want to operate for-profit businesses only one option: joining a zoological group that private owners are “loathe to associate with,” a lawyer for the owners wrote in the brief.

Attorney Robert Owens called Ohio permitting requirements “a sham” – imposing compliance costs so exorbitantly high they exceed the value of the animals involved and threatening to financially wipe out those who seek permits.

“As a result, the Act provides a textbook Hobson’s choice. There is no actual choice, only an illusory one,” Owens wrote. “Unless they join (one of two national zoological associations), Appellants will have to dispose of their property and close their businesses.”

The appeal comes after a federal judge in Columbus sided with the state last year in upholding the law.

Ohio strengthened its regulation of exotic animal ownership after a Zanesville man released dozens of his animals in 2011 from his eastern Ohio farm before committing suicide. Authorities killed most of the animals, including black bears, Bengal tigers and African lions, fearing for the public’s safety.

The new law took effect in September, although some provisions have yet to kick in. Those include a permit process that goes into place in October.

Under that process, owners who want to keep their animals must obtain new state-issued permits by Jan. 1, 2014. They must pass background checks, pay fees, obtain liability insurance or surety bonds and show inspectors they can properly contain the animals and care for them. The law exempts sanctuaries, research institutions and facilities accredited by the two national zoo groups.

Owens says in the brief filed with the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati that the only way for his clients to qualify for an exemption under the law is for them to join either the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Zoological Association of America – groups he says are at odds with his clients.

“The AZA and ZAA advocate against private ownership in the form of aggressive political lobbying and contributions of time and money to political candidates who support their political agenda,” Owens wrote.

In upholding the law last year, U.S. District Court Judge George Smith said the court recognizes some businesses may be negatively affected by it and some owners may not be able to keep their beloved animals, but the plaintiffs failed to prove it violates their constitutional rights. Smith said the case came down to the public interest and protecting the public from the potential dangers of exotic animals that get loose.

More Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/02/exotic-animal-owners-ohio_n_3374565.html?utm_hp_ref=animals

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I'm not sure I understand the connection between owning a tiger and the free exercise of speech, religion or press. Their 4th Amendment argument might stand up if they can establish an unlawful search and seizure, but that is kind of a stretch as well.

    The article repeats the error that Jack Hannah started the night of the Zanesville tragedy. They were not Bengal Tigers. They were hybrids acquired from other exotic animal dealers. As one writer said, “…they were the tiger equivalent of mutts…” That doesn’t make their deaths any less tragic, but as a reporter, fact checking is part of the job description.

    It is a law that is designed to remove these animals from private homes. That is clear from the provisions in it, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Unfortunately, I think it is going to result in a lot of these animals being euthanized. It’s a situation where there is no good or easy answer.

  2. Ohio has notably weak animal laws. It ranks 34th in animal protections by the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Those flimsy laws not only impact the animals, but also the community in which they reside.

    The Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Law was enacted quickly after the stunned world looked on in horror at the majestic, black bears, Bengal tigers, and African lions lying, slain, in the front farmyard of Terry Thompson in Zanesville, Ohio in October of 2011. The international disbelief was not only that someone could own “backyard tigers”, but that there was no plan in place to handle them if they got loose.

    Look a little closer. Prior to the Zanesville tragedy there did not exist even an animal registry. So, Ohio firemen, police officers, social workers, physicians, or anyone going to a home for a visit or needing to enter quickly in an emergency had no warning to let them know that an alligator or an African lion was housed there.

    Even today there is no one in Ohio knows how many exotics there are or where they are located. Many owners of Ohio exotics have not complied with the law mandating free registry of the animals.
    The Cincinnati Enquirer reported in November of 2012 statistics from the Department of Agriculture. Only 121 individuals have come forward to register 343 animals. Yet, there have been conflicting, oral reports of between 3,000 and 10,000 exotics in Ohio.

    Within the last few weeks a five-foot long alligator was discovered walking across a driveway in Richland County. The animal control was called. It turned out it belonged to a neighbor, who had neither registered it with the state nor had posted signs alerting the community that the alligator lived on the premises, as is required by law. In addition, a monkey was shot and killed last week in Clermont County. No one knew who the owner was. Animal control feared public safety as night approached and made the decision to shoot it.

    Ohio lags behind in animal protections. The tragedy with Ohio exotics and the resistance to enact common sense measures for community safety is but one, horrific example. Ohio citizens and the General Assembly need to look around at other states’ initiatives and to move Ohio forward to protect its animals and its communities.