COLUMBUS, Ohio — Owners of so-called “dangerous wild animals” can breathe a sigh of relief, at least for now.
The executive order banning “possession, sale, and transfer” of such animals and signed the last few days of former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s term will expire on April 6, due to “fundamental structural problems” related to its legality.
Officials with Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ohio Division of Wildlife told media during an April 4 teleconference they are working to gather the “key stakeholders” of Ohio’s animal industry, so they can put together the best plan.
“It (the order) did not have the legal support that we felt would be needed to enforce the order in the revised code,” said ODNR Assistant Director Scott Zody.
The order originated during a last-minute deal Strickland made with Ohio’s farm groups and Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States in late June, to keep the animal rights organization from pursuing a statewide ballot initiative in Ohio.
Officials said the most likely stakeholders will be Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Association of Animal Owners, HSUS and others. Meeting dates have not yet been determined, nor has the source of funding, but the department hopes to have the work completed in a matter of “months, not years.”
“I think we’re going to be very aggressive on this,” Zody said.
Currently, incidences involving “dangerous wild animals” are mostly handled by local authorities, and the ODNR does not have regulatory authority. The Department of Wildlife did not have any numbers for the kinds or types of incidents reportedly occurring.
But officials said attention to the keeping of these kinds of animals has been on the rise, with “a lot of concerns” coming from the public involving facilities and peoples’ perceptions.
“Some of them may be perceived and some may be factual,” said Jim Lehman, law enforcement administrator.
Supporters of the ban have argued these kinds of animals belong in the wild, and are a public safety hazard and a burden to local government and law enforcement.
“Private citizens generally cannot provide the sophisticated care these animals require in captivity,” HSUS said in a statement.
Opponents say the animals cause no more harm than other animals, and fear a ban could be the beginning of the end for other animals, including livestock.
“There is no exotic animal emergency in Ohio,” said Polly Britton, OAA legislative assistant.
Zody was asked what the expiration means to the agreement reached with HSUS.
ODNR was not a negotiating party, but officials said they informed HSUS about the decision, and based on what they know, “this is not jeopardizing the agreement that was made under the previous administration.”
According to an ODNR statement, Gov. John Kasich “supports the regulation of dangerous wild animals to ensure the public’s safety and animals’ humane treatment. He also believes any new regulations should be developed in a transparent way with input from the public and those who have interests at stake.”
ODNR is accepting public comments on the matter at www.ohiodnr.com/tabid/23166/Default.aspx.