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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order this afternoon, Oct. 21, directing the state departments of agriculture, natural resources and health to work with local county officials in documenting and reviewing places where dangerous wild animals are kept.
In a press conference at the Statehouse (streamed live via The Ohio Channel) Kasich said he would commit the state to “enforce laws currently on the books,” while the legislature and state departments work to create new laws governing dangerous and exotic animal ownership.
The action comes on the heels of the Zanesville catastrophe, where an estimated 56 exotic animals were released from their pens Oct. 18.
The governor drew criticism for not extending an executive order approved by former Gov. Ted Strickland in his last four days in office.
But Kasich and legal counsel with the department of natural resources said the first order would not have been legally enforceable, because under current Ohio law, the state cannot regulate non-native animals.
“Governors can’t just invent laws,” he said, adding the old order “didn’t have any authority to carry things out.”
Kasich and the staff at ODNR appointed a task force early this year to review and determine appropriate regulations for exotic animals in the state. The group is expected to have a proposal ready by the end of November.
“These are unbelievable animals, beautiful, strong and potentially very dangerous,” Kasich said, recalling seeing some of the same animals on family hiking trips in Montana.
Upon review of existing laws, his staff determined that since 1953, local humane societies have had the power to arrest people who were involved with cruelty to animals. He called on local humane societies to enact the powers necessary, and vowed his support.
“We are going to stand beside them to identify the locations where these dangerous animals may be located,” he said. “We frankly don’t know where they may all be located, but we intend to find out.”
The order also directs agencies to work with zoos in providing a place for animals that are captured or confiscated from inappropriate conditions.
And, the order requires ODNR to set up a contact hotline for complaints and inquiries. ODNR also will be reinspecting permit holders of native species.
Scott Zody, interim director of ODNR, said the department will be reviewing all of its existing permits of native dangerous animals, to see whether additional inspections are needed. Zody said they will use existing tools until something new is enacted.
He also has learned there will be increased inspection efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Zody said new regulations, as they come into existence, need to be thought out and complete.
“The last thing we want to do is propose a law or have a law implemented that could potentially result in having another one of these situations,” he said.
Watch the entire press conference here, via The Ohio Channel:
Ohio Agriculture Director James Zehringer said the deparment’s goal is to ensure the health of the animals, and that conditions are right for animals and owners.
He said State Veterinarian Tony Forshey will be among the staff who work with local humane societies, to help resolve issues.
Zehringer also said he has received a hand-written letter from the state’s only exotic animal auction house, assuring state officials the auction has not sold the type of dangerous animals in question “for quite some time” and “agreed not to do it in the future.”
The auction was unnamed during the press conference. But Ohio is known to have an exotic animal auction in Mount Hope, Ohio. That auction, according to its sale program, prohibits dangerous animals from being sold or brought onto the premises.
Click here to read our main story about the Zanesville incident.