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Wild animal owners resist common sense restrictions

Published: Mon, November 26, 2012 @ 12:00 a.m.

It has been more than a year since Ohio made international headlines when Terry Thompson, 62, released his private menagerie of more than 50 wild animals near Zanesville, just before killing himself.

As night fell, Muskingum County Sheriff Matthew Lutz gave the only order he could, an order that his men should shoot to kill the lions, tigers, leopards, wolves and bears that Thompson had released from the cages on his farm.

By morning, 48 animals had died. Two were unaccounted for. Six — three big cats, two monkeys and a bear — had either not left the cages or were recaptured. They were transported to the Columbus Zoo where they were held in quarantine, during which one big cat was fatally injured by a cage door during transfer.

It should be clear that the deaths of those animals is on Thompson, no one else. And we would suggest that the cost of responding to Thompson’s irresponsible act should be borne by his estate, not Muskingum and Ohio taxpayers.

A land without laws

At the time, Ohio had virtually no law regulating the private ownership of dangerous animals. Common sense and political reality would seem to dictate a quick and effective response to that oversight. That was not to be.

It took nearly six months for the General Assembly to pass Senate Bill 310, and the end result was not only too long in coming but it had been watered down through lobbying efforts of the owners and traders of wild animals and its implementation stretched out over a period of years.

And now, even that law is obviously being ignored by many owners — perhaps hundreds of them— and implementation of its key provisions have been challenged in a federal lawsuit filed by four animal owners.

There are two good reasons to restrict or ban ownership of exotic animals. First and foremost is the potential danger that such animals represent to the public at large and the cost that falls on the public when something goes wrong. Second is society’s interest in seeing to it that animals receive humane treatment from the humans that purport to take responsibility for them. The state’s interest in upholding such principles in law is well established.

A right or a privilege?

The federal suit contends that SB 310 threatens owners’ First Amendment and property rights. The owners say the law would force them to join private associations, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Zoological Association of America. They also claim that the costs of providing for the animals in ways prescribed by law — maintaining insurance and having identifying microchips implanted in the animals before registration — are prohibitive. This, they say, amounts to an illegal taking of their property without compensation.

The state has agreed to delay seeking sanctions against unregistered owners until after a hearing in mid-December.

If the law is ruled unconstitutional on the “association” argument, it will prove only that the Legislature was foolish in attempting to accommodate the owners of exotic animals by giving them an avenue toward responsible ownership.

The better response would have simply been to outlaw private ownership of animals such as large cats, bears, wolves, poisonous snakes, alligators and crocodiles. Twenty-nine of the 50 states have some form of an ownership ban, so it would appear that the “takings” argument would be an uphill climb to the Supreme Court of the United States.

As of the Nov. 5 deadline for initial registration under the law, 130 private owners, not including zoos, submitted applications covering 483 animals. Agriculture Department Director David Daniels says the state believes there are as many as 600 people who own animals covered by the law.

It appears that hundreds of owners are either prepared to ignore the law or are banking on a win in federal court.

Unless the federal court issues an injunction, following next month’s hearing, the state should begin enforcing the law — to its letter and without further delay.

And it should start with the Muskingum County Animal Farm, to which Marian Thompson, the widow of Terry Thompson, returned those two big carts, two monkeys and a bear after they were released from quarantine.

If you have to ask the cost ...

As for claims that the law makes it too expensive for folks to own lions and tigers and bears, we’d offer an analogy. Just as someone who can’t afford auto insurance can’t afford to drive, someone who can’t afford complying with provisions of the dangerous animal law can’t afford the animal.

And for those who chafe under society’s restrictions, there are exotic places where man and wild animals share — or vie for — territory. They are free to move to those corners of the world, if they dare.


1valleypoboy(227 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

In this country, it always seems there are those who misinterpret freedom and liberty to equal anarchy; allow them to do whatever they please wherever they please. A basic premise of our freedom is that your unfettered rights end where they impact me. At that interface, the government must step in and establish boundary laws. If your big cat will never, ever impact me, then fine; have fun. But, we all know from many bad situations like the Zanesville incident that it is likely to have an impact. Thus, some regulation is in order and does not violate an owner's rights. In fact, to have no regulation violates my right to pursue my life in peace and safety. Perhaps its time to hire a lawyer and file my own suit.

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2busyman(239 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

Another requirement should be a meeting with a pychiatrist to evaluate the purposed for having these types of animals or reptiles that are not friendly to mankind. I agree with valleypoboy, What rights do we violated by these people. I get so tired of these people who do not want to follow the laws of the people to protect the people. If they were in another country they would be feed to the lions. Let them protest their rights then.

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3KarenH(1 comment)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

As for the bill being watered down, it was originally written to include ALL reptiles & amphibians! There were no reptiles or amphibians in the Zanesville incident so why add them? I know why: It was a way for the AR folks to destroy the reptile trade.....Let's make it so you have to buy $100,000 insurance, microchip the animal, put signs up on your property stating you have a "dangerous wild animal" in order for little Johnny to own a harmless captive born and bred $30 leopard gecko.

This ban is completely ridiculous. All you people who believe the "sky is falling" sensationalized drama that a lion is going to eat you in your back yard stop and think for a minute, stop listening to the AR sensationalism and use common sense. There are very few people who own big cats, bears, etc. If these owners were so bad at keeping their animals contained, then where is the human body count? Oh yeah, pitifully low to almost nonexistent. Your chance of dying by a dog or horse is 1000X greater even if you combine all exotics owned in the USA. Most of the people killed by cats have been in zoos and they're already regulated, LOL.

This ban is making exotic animal owners out to be guilty when they have done nothing wrong. What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

I say stop wasting tax payer's money on rounding up exotic animal owners who have harmed no one and spend the money on stopping people who ARE harming others like drug dealers, drunk drivers, rapists, murderers, pedophiles.

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4LegalBeagle(1 comment)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

First of all, Terry Thompson was murdered. He did not let his animals loose and then commmit suicide as the authorities would have you believe. I don't know of any suicidal people who would let tigers and lions loose, then pull their pants down, mutilate themselves, then lay down in a prone position, put a gun to their heads and then pull the trigger. That just does not happen. Secondly, there are more people mauled and killed by their pet dogs every year than have been killed by an exotic animal in the past ten years. Thirdly, if your neighbr's dog is vicious, you don't ban ALL dogs. We have vicious dog laws on the books to ensure that people control their "vicious" animals. There is already strict liability for dog bites, and this can certainly be applied to exotic animal bites, as well. Most exotic animal owners are extremely careful to not let strangers come into contact with their animals because they don't want to lose those animals. These animals are not left to roam in fenced yards, like dogs, where any child on its way home from school can walk by the fence and tease the animal or put his fingers through the fence to "pet" the animal. Most of the time, the neighbor is not even aware that an exotic animal is housed next door because the owners keep their animals in a "secluded" area of their home or yard to prevent interaction with other people. So, all of you who have fallen prey to the Animal Rights Activsts false threats of harm and/or alarm, should sit back and think about this logically. Don't be led around by your nose and don't drink the kool-aid.

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5jeepers(127 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

Usually I am against more gov. regulations.In the case of dangerous, non-native animals- I say make them illegal to privately own. Sick and tired of idiots buying and keeping poisonous snakes that are not native to the U.S. and to Ohio. Look at south Florida-millions of dollare spent each yr to round up COBRAS, ANACONDAS [non-p0isonous] ETC ETC. When a person grows up in a land and knows the natural wildlife to look out for, the person can enjoy the outdoors taking known precautions. BUT- when an idiot turns his wild animals/snakes loose-or the animals get loose due to storms/natural disasters., then the public cannot be protected. Individuals who chose to own these-and I am against it-should pay a huge license fee and have to account for the animal when license is renewed yrly. If you relly love these animals-go live with them in the native land-think of your 'pets' well being not yours. It is COOL for egotists to own and SHOW OFF 'their' animals. Right up tp the point where people are injured/maimed/killed.-then it ain't so cool.

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6jdscarlett(2 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

If you think about it what really is the difference between exotic vs domestic animals? Of course in owning one it is level of care but aren't they all animals with individual specific needs & different behaviors based on each unique animal or species?

Look at the difference between the needs of a husky verse the needs of a yorkie that people tote around in purses & put bows on their head. What about the people who live in apartments with a husky dog? It's very common everywhere you go for large dogs that really have specific drives to live with their owners in apartments, but is that fair to the animal even though it is a domestic dog? Who knows maybe the owner takes it to a dog park every day or maybe it just gets outside for restroom purposes.

If you have an exotic animal so many people immediately view you as you are denying that animal it's "natural right" to live freely in its natural environment and it does not belong in your home. But again what about that husky living in that apartment that never gets to freely run around & exercise basic husky behaviors. Does it belong in an apartment? I think "most" people would say no but they would not be offended by it necessarily or call that owner cruel. Overall it is ok because that animal is "domestic" right therefore the owner OWNS it & as long as its basic needs are met that's what matters to the general public? Yet an exotic animal thriving in private captivity automatically must be cruel and wrong!

My point is people's beliefs & assumptions prevent them from understanding the truth & accepting alternatives. They stereotype instead of opening their mind to the idea that things are not always the way they are "told" in the media. Owning an animal is not right or wrong. Stating so is subjecting your own personal belief & beliefs do not make facts.

People believe "domestic" animals are safe. Yet no animal will ever truly have the same mental capacity of a human and at the end of the day even domestic animals can behave in unpredictable ways. Look at how many dog deaths we have every year. Someone believes it is "safe" to leave their newborn child alone in a room with the family dog and then is shocked when something happens to it yet that same person would not hand that same infant baby to a 5 year old which has a much higher mental capacity then a dog without staying close by for fear that child could drop that newborn. Why is this??

What about domestic bulls....are they safe?

There is a big difference in the care & behaviors between owning domestic vs exotic animals. Just like there is a difference between that yorkie vs that husky. It comes down to the owner education & common sense!

The idea of taking away what makes people passionate & what they have devoted so much of their life and so much time & energy into because someone else who does not own this same animal believes in their mind this is "cruel" is not what are laws are made by.

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7jdscarlett(2 comments)posted 3 years, 8 months ago

If anything exotic animal owners represent hope and future dedication to our society. Did you know how many zoos actually buy exotic animals from private breeders? This is because private breeders have the means to devote to individual species and give them proper care unlike zoos which have limited space. Yet the media shuns these people. In reality animal rights activists want the idea of someone owning and caring for an exotic animal to be a silly dream and never a possibility no matter even if they would do a better job with personal interaction to that animal then a public zoo would. Zoos put these animals on DISPLAY. How are zoos the "only" reasonable place for an animal if not in the wild? Because it makes you feel better inside? Again feelings do not make facts. It will be a sad day when responsible private exotic animal owners become extinct due to bans. Does pushing your beliefs that these animals ONLY belong in the wild where they are often hunted and killed to the point of extinction due to human behaviors really "more right" then them living, thriving in someone's home where they get access to food, water, shelter from severe cold or heat, protection from predators and interaction...and oh my gosh love from an owner that wants to both protect the species in captivity AND in the wild as well as educate the public on them?

If you want to regulate exotic animal enrichment in private hands then shouldn't you also regulate domestic animals? I mean surely keeping a dog in a kennel all day every day while you work is not mentally good for that animal. An animal is an animal no matter the species. This may sound silly as so many people own domestics I mean how could they possibly regulate how people own them in their own private homes right?

So then where is the line drawn and what makes sense and is reasonable in regulation ownership of exotic animals?

I believe in REASONABLE restrictions. Nobody should own a full grown tiger, or elephant etc. in a tiny neighborhood backyard or tiny community apartment. And responsible tiger, elephant etc. owners KNOW this and would never themselves do this plain and simple! They are not crazy like the media continues to portray them they are dedicated and passionate individuals!

I do not believe in outright bans. But I also believe in restrictions that make sense based on facts and the specific species being restricted for concrete reasons that make sense and not on someones personal feelings just because it is not a domestic animal and definitely NOT based on money hungry agendas or lies that the media has the public so convinced on.

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