WOOSTER, Ohio — It could still be a couple weeks before Ohio’s new governor takes a close look at an emergency order signed by former Gov. Ted Strickland, banning ownership and sale of certain “dangerous wild animals.”
When he does, feedback from both sides will be abundant.
The Ohio Division of Wildlife plans to present its findings by early March. So far, the division has received about 40 e-mails and more than 90 comments to its website.
Of the e-mails, “more than half express an opposition to the rule,” said Heidi Hetzel-Evans, of ODNR’s media relations office in a statement. Of the electronic comments, “most are from Ohioans who own some of the listed species and oppose the rule.”
Strickland signed the order during his last days in office — the result of an agreement he helped broker in June with the Washington, D.C.-based animal rights organization Humane Society of The United States, and Ohio’s farm commodity leaders. The agreement was made to keep HSUS from pursuing a ballot initiative in the fall of 2010.
“This rule will help protect Ohioans from deaths and serious injuries caused by attacks from dangerous wild animals held in private ownership,” Strickland said in a statement when announcing the ban.
The ban prevents “new private ownership of wild animals that are dangerous to human health and safety, requires existing private owners of dangerous wild animals to register the animals with the state, and details the type of facilities that can own and rehabilitate dangerous wild animals.”
The ban is in effect for 90 days, and could be made permanent, if the Kasich administration believes it necessary. So far, the high volume of public feedback has postponed the filing of permanent rules, to allow for a thorough review.
“Because the rule was initiated by the last administration, this (Kasich) administration is committed to enable Ohioans to share their opinion on this issue,” Hetzel-Evans said. “The website remains up and comments are welcome.”
Animal owners like Keith Campbell of Hillview Exotics in Frazeysburg, and Cyndi Huntsman of Stump Hill Farm in Massillon, have been vocal about the ban since its announcement.
Campbell said he’s frustrated that exotic animal owners were not represented when the livestock care agreement was made in June.
“The (exotic) animal industry never had representation,” he said, saying owners of exotics were told their industry was “illegitimate.”
Campbell and the Ohio Association of Animal Owners counter notions of illegitimacy with the economic impact of exotics in Ohio. Campbell said he’s been told the industry brings $12.5 billion to the state, and “that kind of makes us legitimate in my eyes,” Campbell said.
The biggest supporter of the ban is HSUS, which has produced a fact sheet of issues related to ownership of dangerous wild animals in Ohio.
Highlighting the list was the mauling of bear caretaker Brent Kandra, 24, at a Lorain County residence in August.
Other incidents include bites from venomous snakes and certain kinds of monkeys.
Campbell said he doesn’t oppose regulation, and even certain types of bans, but would expect those in compliance to be exempted.
“If you meet all state and government requirements,” he said, “you should be exempted from this ban.”
Although there have been some issues with exotic animals in Ohio, Campbell said they’ve mostly been owner-handler related.
Huntsman said the risks of working with exotic animals are part of the job, just as there are risks with other jobs, including livestock farming.
“He (Kandra) worked there, it was nothing new to that man,” she said. “He knew what he was doing, he knew the risks and he chose to take those risks.”
Huntsman owns many exotics, including camels, lions, tigers, bears, wolves, fox and coyote. She estimates 90 percent of her income comes from exotics, a serious problem now that she can’t buy or sell.
She said when she did sell a dangerous animal, it was always to another licensed U.S. Department of Agriculture facility. Others have come to her for animals, and she turned them away.
Stump Hill Farm keeps the popular Massillon Tiger mascot, which is exempted from the ban.