WOOSTER, Ohio — The part-owner to one of Ohio’s only exotic animal auctions is trying to figure out how an executive order by exiting Gov. Ted Strickland will affect his business.
Thurman Mullet, who owns the Mount Hope Auction with his brother, Steve, was still learning about the order on Jan. 7, which ultimately bans ownership, sale and breeding of certain “dangerous wild animals.”
Strickland made the announcement Jan. 6, following a deal he brokered in late June with the animal rights organization Humane Society of the United States, and Ohio’s farm leaders, to prevent an animal care ballot initiative by HSUS.
Since the ban announcement, farmers, pet owners and consumers have been busy trying to figure out what it means, and how it may affect their own businesses.
The Mount Hope exotic sale, properly called the “Mid Ohio Alternative Animal and Bird Sale,” dates back to 1990 and has become a feature event, drawing a crowd from across Ohio and beyond.
The sale has a rule on dangerous animals — they must be no larger than 20 pounds — and the sale permits no venomous snakes. In the sale’s 20-year history, Mullet said he can’t think of any accidents.
But if Strickland’s order is upheld by the Kasich administration, it could be the end of sale for certain animals.
Among those banned — big cats, wolves, bears, non-human primates, large constricting and venomous snakes, and crocodilians.
The order authorizes ODNR to adopt a new rule that prevents new private ownership of wild animals that are dangerous to human health and safety. It also requires existing private owners of dangerous wild animals to register the animals with the state; and describes the type of facilities that can own and rehabilitate dangerous wild animals.
Mullet is studying the issue closer, to see what animals he can put into his next auction flyer. The sale is held three times a year.
“We’re not dependent on the dangerous animals and we don’t sell a lot of those,” he said.
But he’s concerned for those who do raise dangerous animals, and he questions what will be next. A bull can be dangerous, he said, but is an important part of animal agriculture.
“They (activists) won’t stop at just this,” he predicted. “Next would be certain primates; next, certain other animals.”
Exotic animal owners have expressed disappointment with the agreement between HSUS and Ohio’s agriculture leaders, saying they felt “thrown under the bus,” along the way.
The Ohio Association of Animal Owners called the governor’s order a power grab by the ODNR “to seize control of, and ultimately shut down Ohio’s exotic animal industry.”
“There is no exotic animal emergency in Ohio,” said Polly Britton, the organization’s legislative assistant, in a news release.
Britton said licensed animal owners, breeders and exhibitors have safely and securely kept these animals for many years and are subject to regular, unannounced government inspections to ensure no one or animal is at risk.
“This emergency order is fueled by animal rights extremism and scaremongering, and it is a direct attack on commerce and private enterprise in Ohio,” she said.
The HSUS’ leading call for the ban stems from an incident in August, when a bear mauled to death its caretaker, Brent Kandra, 24, at a Lorain County residence where exotic animals were kept.
Kandra’s mother, Deirdre Herbert, has spent the past several months calling for the ban, holding press conferences with HSUS and reminding the public of her loss.
“I believe that this valuable executive order will not only prevent other families from suffering the tragedy and loss as my family has experienced, but is also a humane act towards these majestic animals,” she said, in a release from HSUS.
The animal rights organization says “private citizens generally cannot provide the sophisticated care these animals require in captivity” and touted Strickland’s order as a major success.
“Dangerous wild animals do not belong in the backyards and basements of private citizens,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS. “It’s bad for the animals and dangerous for people. This emergency order is good for Ohio, and we look forward to seeing it implemented in the months ahead.”
Under the rule, the ownership, breeding, selling, trading, and bartering of dangerous wild animals is prohibited to anyone who does not currently own one of the designated animals.
Similarly, existing owners of wild dangerous animals cannot breed, sell, trade, or barter these types of animals.
Existing owners would be allowed to continue with their ownership if they register their animals by May 1, 2011, and every year thereafter.
Accredited zoos, bona fide wildlife sanctuaries, and certain other facilities are exempt.
Also, subject to certain criteria, long-standing circuses and mascot programs, along with veterinary hospitals, research facilities, Department of Natural Resources-permitted native-wildlife rehabilitation facilities, law enforcement officers, and temporary transporters will also be allowed to continue to own these types of animals.
According to ODNR Director Sean Logan, who is also leaving office under the new Kasich administration, the rule will become effective immediately, but it is only effective for 90 days.
“We hope the incoming administration will see the value of this effort and take the necessary steps to implement a permanent rule that would ban the ownership of these species,” Logan added.
During those 90 day, ODNR will submit these rules to the state’s rule-making body, the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review, for inclusion in Ohio’s Administrative Code.