Ohio’s ‘dangerous wild animal’ bill moving through legislature


Update: The House Ag Committee approved the bill May 16, with new amendments, by a vote of 17 in favor, and four opposed. This announcement came shortly after our article was published.

COLUMBUS — A bill designed to regulate and ban private ownership of “dangerous wild animals” is being considered in Ohio’s House Ag Committee.

Senate Bill 310 was passed by the Senate April 25, with 30 votes in favor, and one against.

Amendments to the House bill version will be considered this week, said Michael McGuire, legislative aide to Ag Committee Chairman Dave Hall, R-Millersburg. McGuire said a vote is possible this week, “if everyone is at the table and ready.”

The Senate version basically bans private ownership as of Jan. 1, 2014, except for those who possess the proper permit. Unless they meet specific permit requirements, a person would not be allowed to “buy, sell, trade or transfer” these types of animals.

The animals include hyenas, gray wolves, lions, tigers, bears, jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, lynxes, elephants, alligators, crocodiles, various types of monkeys and additional animals.

Under the Senate version, the owner would need to place a microchip in his animals 60 days after the bill becomes law.

Types of permits

The permits to keep these animals beyond 2013 basically consist of a wildlife shelter permit, wildlife propagation permit, snake permits, and rescue facility permits.

The wildlife shelter permit requires an owner to submit a plan of housing and emergency preparedness, and to pay a $500 fee for ownership up to three such animals, and up to $2,000, if he keeps 16 or more such animals.

Proof of financial responsibility also is required. Owners must have liability insurance or a surety bond of at least $250,000, and up to $1 million if 16 or more animals are kept.

Some of the bill dates back to 2010 and 2011, when former Gov. Ted Strickland made an agreement with Ohio agriculture leaders and Humane Society of the United States, to put new restrictions on exotic animal ownership. Gov. John Kasich, who took office in January of 2011, formed a task force to consider new regulations for the exotic animal industry.

Animals escape

The legislation drew worldwide attention in October 2011 when deceased exotic animal owner Terry Thompson, of Zanesville, apparently set free more than 40 such animals in an apparent suicide attempt.

McGuire said ag committee sessions have been “very well attended,” with people voicing support and opposition.


Deirdre Herbert, the mother of 24-year-old Brent Kandra, who was killed by a bear at a Lorain County exotic animal farm in August of 2010, has testified in support of new regulations.

“I don’t have a problem with the people who are keeping these animals (for rescue),” she told Farm and Dairy.

Instead, she opposes people who purchase the animals and are breeding them and presenting them as part of their business, and “teaching children from a young age that these animals are harmless.”

Her son worked for the now deceased exotic animal owner, Sam Mazzola. Herbert said her son got drawn into the business the same way most young people do, without a full understanding of “the reality of these animals once they get bigger and once they reach their full maturity level — once natural instincts kick in.”

But owners and supporters of the animals say the bill goes too far, with the purpose of ending private ownership and breeding rights.

Polly Britton, legislative agent for Ohio Association of Animal Owners, takes issues with “inconsistencies” in the bill. Specifically, she’s upset the bill treats entities differently when it comes to inspections and certifications.

“It makes sense to us (animal owners) that the bill should make everybody meet USDA requirements,” she said, adding that anything else is “inconsistent.”

Task force

Britton was part of the Kasich task force to help craft new regulations. She said the current bill adds more animals than were originally agreed to be banned, and she’s unhappy with the fee schedule.

Her organization has submitted a substitute bill, which she said provides “affordable” permitting options and ensures that owners who “meet USDA requirements that are written into Ohio law,” can keep their animals.

But Erica Pitchford, spokesperson for Ohio Department of Agriculture, said administering new rules will come with a price. She expects additional veterinarians would need to be hired, and current staff would need new training.

Ohio Ag Director David Daniels has testified for the bill in both the House and Senate. Pitchford said it makes sense ODA would administer the new rules, because it’s the only state agency with field veterinarians.

Some concerns

But the department does have a few issues with the bill. One is setting a fee schedule that covers expenses, and another is providing appropriate limits to the rescue facility permit. She said ODA supports rescue permits, but does not want to create a situation that could cause a “continued influx of these animals into the state” by owners outside Ohio.

Thurman Mullet, co-owner of Mount Hope Auction, has testified as one of the owners of an “alternative animal” auction, held in Holmes County. Although he does not sell the animals in question, he’s troubled by the precedent the legislation could set, because it restricts reproduction rights, limits private ownership and potentially opens the door for additional animals to be banned in the future.

“This list will never shrink; this list will always grow,” he said.

But Pitchford said if the director decides an additional animal should be added at a later date, that decision “is not complete, unchecked authority.” The decision still must go through Ohio’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review — where the new rule would be subject to legislative review and public comment.

Part of the reason for adding more animals, she said, is because new hybrids and species could be introduced in the future, which are considered dangerous and wild.

Mullet said he understands why regulations are needed, to protect neighbors and others from potentially dangerous situations, like keeping a large tiger in a residential back yard.

“You’ve got to have some accountability,” he said.

Full review

One area where parties seem to agree, is that their comments are being taken seriously.

“There were a lot of questions, which I love that, because in the Senate committee nobody hardly asked any questions at all,” Britton said.

Herbert, a proponent, said she’s interacted with, and “listened openly” to the other side. In the end, “the reality is there is going to be a law — it’s just a matter of the exotic animal owners (and) the pet owners presenting their case.”

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  1. First, I find it odd that all the HR groups and all these sanctuaries are out there crying to have all private animal owner rights taken away and there is the wording in these bills that will take away the domestic pet owner’s rights also. Beware of legislation made based on those people bearing pitchforks, torches and screaming to burn them (owners) as this knee jerk reaction is just that jerky…poorly planned and poorly written and it is shameful that they have wasted Taxpayer’s money by listening to the rhetoric spewed by the AR people who believe that being free or dead are the best options for the animals.

    Secondly, if you believe that sanctuaries are safer than even an AZA zoo; you are wrong; if you believe an AZA is safer than a private animal owner; you are wrong. If you believe that GFAS, ASA and AZA should be in any Bill; you are wrong. These groups are nothing more than a non-governing agency; so what does this mean to everyone and as well as our legislatures? It means that they do not have to hold ALL members to the same standards or regulations that are in written in their own by-laws. Don’t like the by-laws; no problem get a majority and change it to suit their individual needs.

    It is time that the light of the truth comes out and shines on this subject: Zoos created the need for brokers who in turn found a new venue to sell the surplus animals (by product of over breeding animals in order to have the cute babies to drive the public through their gates) and that was commercial breeders (pet, fur and hunting trades). Many of these commercial breeders found that their aging breeding stock doesn’t have a very lucrative resale value; so here they come with this new idea create a sanctuary and move their tools of the trade aka private pats into this 501c(3) and get tax benefits and free money from the donors to support their collection.

    More exotic rescues came about over the years because they had to go from private ownership due to threats of having their animals taken away because of animal neglect, abuse, or new ordinance changes; etc. One even became a rescue because they had placed a minor child into an enclosure with two cougars and the child was bitten…oh my yes they were able to obtain a USDA license and now have over 58+ exotics and still growing.

    Are sanctuaries safer than anyone even zoos? No, in fact, many of them do not have any crisis management plans; many do not have the infrastructure to prevent escapes in case of emergencies such as hurricanes or other incidents that may result in the release of these dangerous exotics (livestock and horses are dangerous too in conditions such as I am describing). Many do not operate their facilities as a business; instead they operate from the “we can’t say no” and keep asking for more donations; even when they can’t afford to buy a proper trailer to place the animal enclosures inside to transport to veterinarians and hospitals; instead they place an enclosure on top of a short flat bed trailer, throw a tarp over it, have two volunteers or staff riding on either side while driving down a road or highway (violation of state DOT and AWA regulations.

    Sanctuaries rely on volunteers to replace the need for experienced staff; they are not required to have a background check on them or on their staff or volunteers. They are also not required to report injuries to state or federal levels; so animal bites or attacks go unreported unless there is a death. Many of these sanctuaries are often exempt from meeting new standards and several do not meet AWA requirements because they say they can’t afford too. Many just out right lie about how they have obtained the animals…one rescue in fact paid $10,000 for a white tiger cub and his story was that he was rescued from horrible conditions; or the one they announced they rescued from a breeder; guess what the owner of the rescue was the breeder!

    If we agree to say that 85% of this country’s population are law abiding responsible citizens and the 15% remaining are either irresponsible or criminals; so lets apply that same percentages to those of animal owners…it is the 15% THAT THE MEDIA and SANCTUARIES and all these AR groups are ranting and raving. So it is because of 15% of those who we need to regulate and take away rights from the other 85%? NO!

    There are simple and common sense solutions to this issue and if all the ARs out there want to have an outright ban; then I have to say I am glad that I do not belong to any AR group and No I am not an exotic animal owner – I am an Animal Welfarist…it is about the animals and if our legislatures listen and write new laws that AR Groups are promoting; there is going to be a mass euthanization of animals that we have never seen in this country; owners will be hiding them once again, or moving them into other states many without proper health certifications, and eventually they will be able to add other animals such as horses, dogs and other pets currently not declared as dangerous…isn’t it time that we all put aside our differences, find our common ground and make choices that are better for the animals?

    • I think there is alot of hype about what an exemption means. For example the reason that an Exemption would and should exist for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is that the USDA standards are a prerequisite that must be met and maintained before they can be considered for AZA accreditation. The standards for quality animal care and welfare set by AZA accreditation are so much higher than USDA requires for licensing that they are not comparable. That’s why there are well over 2000 USDA licensed facilities, but only 224 serious minded AZA accredited facilities.

      • Really? So a sanctuary that did not have a perimeter fence since 1998 and USDA licensed since 2000 should not be pulled on the carpet? USDA should answer questions…if anyone gets an exemption is has to be approved not only by the USDA, but it needs to be evaluated by the local and state as well. This facility is less than 3 miles from any public schools…they are several hundred feet from a park where the boy scouts hold jamborees. There is nothing that is in place to ensure that these facilities have the proper infrastructure to support or transport their dangerous animals. Unless strapping a crate on the back of a flatbed trailer covering it with a tarp and having two volunteers/staff people sit on each side a an approved exemption by the AWA!

        Bogus…The AWA recommends minimum standards that is all…so if any zoo, private owner or a sanctuary wants to surpass those standards then great, but you have to meet all the other standards as well! To be exempted is just more rhetoric from the AZA lobbists. In fact, I find it hypocritical for AZA to be against private owners when in fact that they purchase animals from these commercial breeders. Can’t your cake and eat it too. More people have been injured or killed in Zoos than by privately owned exotic animals; so it begs the question of why is it that zoos attack private owners when they had a mauling or animal escape at their facility?

        Truth is there are more responsible owners out there that are not getting the credit they deserve. Truth is zoos are not as safe as the AZA portrays them to be. Let’s be honest here, people who want to work with some of the most dangerous wild animals in the world do have some mental or emotional issues and so we are to believe that those who have the keys couldn’t do something such as what happened in Zanesville at any AZA facility?

      • Veronica,

        Your description at the begining of your statement should clearly NEVER have been overlooked… and… would never be expemtedunde rthe current language of this law. However, it was overlooked (if you are talking about real life zanesville) because there is currently no law requiring a private individual to register any dangerous animal (with anyone, let alone USDA) if they “say” they are not exhibiting to the public. 310 will change that if the governor signs it. Godspeed to him.

  2. It’s a shame that our Governor and Jack Hanna (real name John Bushnell from Knoxville Tennessee) can’t see past the green dollar bills in front of their face to realize that Zoo’s purchase animals from private breeders.

    This bill takes regulation away from the Federal Government and replaces it with Private Agencies (AZA, ZAA and GFAS which is made up of HSUS employee’s). The animal welfare act gives the power to USDA to enforce the law, private companies have no legal power to do anything.

    Ask yourself this question, if this bill passes and ANY zoo lost their accreditation, who is going to care for the animals because the bill states you MUST be accredited? Tax payers will be paying for the animals care, paying for their death or the Zoo’s will just be allowed to slide by….how nice.

    If you didn’t attend the hearings, ASPCA with their HSUS logo also on their testimony stated they would like to see ALL pets banned because animals carry disease. The bill also gives a seat to HSUS to say what/how these animals are cared for, tell me which HSUS paid employee in Ohio has the qualifications for that?

    Maybe Gov. Kasich can start a new state motto contest after his bill is passed. I have one…Welcome to Ohio, We Don’t take Animals.

    • Exemption for accredited facilities should only be made when the USDA licensing is a prerequisite to the accreditation process. (like it is for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) Organizations / people should be encouraged to do MORE than is required by law, this is why I think of an AZA accreditation as kind of like the “good housekeeping seal of approval”.

      This is similar to the exemption for “Home Rule” in the bill because if a city (like Cleveland) has laws already on the books that are stricter than the state law will be in the end, the Clevlanders have the right to have their “home rule” stand and not be weakened by state laws.

      • The standards and rules of a private agency should not be part of any state or federal regulations. As their standards and rules can change or be modified to suit the needs of their members; then it is better to say that they can mirror those standards that exceed the local, state or federal regulations. That is setting a precedent that will cause more confusion and possibly failure of those desiring to comply with all regulations may find themselves being fined for not meeting revised standards that were changed by the AZA, GFAS, ASA, etc.

        Breeders should be required to request buyers to produce their permits, licenses before the animal is sold and the breeders are then required to send a copy of the USDA transfer to the buyer’s state agency as well as the USDA. Breeders have to take some responsibility to ensure that the animal is being sold to a responsible owner or facility that meets state and federal standards and have passed background check.

      • Cheveyo,

        I understand your point, and actually agree with you. However, the exemptions provided in this law, just like they are applied in many other laws for organizations with a strong history of exceeding legal requirements, have been given expemptions from redundant work “finally” being required by law. Since the law does not hold anyone else to the standards of the exempt organizations, there should be no confusion, and the House has the authority to remove an exemption if it is not meeting the standards of the law.

  3. The animals in the unfortunate Zanesville incident didn’t escape, the owner was overwhelmed with problems, had a mental breakdown and released the animals.
    Are there plans in the new rules that will bring in the owners, managers and workers at places that house dangerous animals to have them tested by a doctor to make sure they are fine, are not going to break down, go mental, and do something dumb. You can have the best built facility, but you only need one person not in their right mind to open cages.

    • Back ground checks would help in this type of situation: Any person who has been adjudicated into a mental hospital by any court in any state will not be allowed to have permits or licenses to own any dangerous exotic animal or to operate any sanctuary containing dangerous exotic animals. If anyone who has been convicted of felonies (in any state) will not be allowed to own dangerous exotic animals or own/operate any sanctuary containing dangerous exotic animals.

      Anyone who has been convicted of animal abuse and/or neglect in any state will not be allowed to own any dangerous wild animal and they will not be able to own or operate any animal sanctuary including dangerous wild animals.

      These standards would greatly reduce the percentages of those individuals that will be considered a public safety risk as well as ensure that they cannot relocate to another state and setup another animal business. This also applies to any commercial breeders. Isn’t easier to be proactive than reactive when human life or the life of the animals are often the costs in creating new regulations.

  4. Sounds like ‘Big Brother’ at work to me! Sure, perhaps rules and regulations governing exotic animal ownership of animals that absolutely do not belong in the private sector; animal species with a reputation for being dangerous or lethal. To group all exotic animals into one category is the lazy man’s out and too imposing on people, in general. Where is the line going to be drawn between our rights as citizens in the United States and the Government dictating our every whim with consequences? Not fair; and, I don’t like it at all; and, neither should you. If people do not unite and take a stand to protect themselves against Government enactments, we, the people of the United States will eventually become victims of a dictatorship, our Government. The Government cannot even control themselves; so, why allow them to get into our business? I feel the same way about State Governments. We are allowing the Governments to herd us around like sheep, and doing nothing to stop their interference in our rights as citizens in what is suppose to be a free Country. Agreed and accepted, regulations of animals that plainly do not belong in a private home should be scrutinized; but again, to lump all exotic species under one big umbrella is just plain stupid! All the Government is doing is making its’ citizens go underground to get away from its’ control, because if someone wants an illegal pet, they’re going to do whatever it takes to have what they want. There has to be a compromise between the entities of you and me. Use your brains people! Fight for your rights.

  5. It is about knowing the backgrounds before permits and licenses are granted especially those who start any animal sanctuary or zoos. If any applicant has a conviction for animal abuse or neglect or felonies; or if they were adjudicated by a court to be placed into a mental institution then they shouldn’t be able to own dangerous wildlife or own/operate an animal sanctuary. It is time that we know “who is rescuing the rescued”. Even hoof stock poses a higher threat to life each year compared to deaths caused by dangerous wild animals. People maimed, attacked or killed by dogs owned by irresponsible owners happens more times in one year than one by a dangerous wild animal; so for people to operate a rescue with these types of dogs shouldn’t they also be scrutinized?

    It is time to advocate for the animals welfare. Most of these AR groups that have gone before the Ohio representatives as well as the AZA spokespeople have an agenda. Many of the AR groups firmly believe that all animals should be wild and it is better even for our domestic pets to be euthanized than live in captivity. This Bill allows for a loophole that can add other animals that are currently not on this bill into a dangerous wild animal and that can be used to take away rights of domestic animal owners!

    I have proof that the USDA inspections, as well as, GFAS, ASA, AZA had failed to notice on their inspections at one facility that they did not meet the AWA requirement for a perimeter fence and here this rescue has over 58 dangerous wild animals including Tigers, Lions, Cougars, Cheetahs, etc. This facility is also 2.59 miles from public schools and several hundred feet from a park (Boy Scouts hold Jamborees at this park) not to mention their neighbor’s homes just a few feet away from their property. It should also be mentioned that this facility had also posted photos of them taking a Tiger to the veterinarian using a flat bed trailer to strap the animal’s enclosure onto and two volunteers riding on either side – this is also an AWA violation and state code violations. Sanctuaries are not safer than zoos; in fact, one spokesperson who owns a rescue has enclosures that cannot sustain a hurricane or other natural disaster or proper lock downs to ensure that these animals cannot be released into the public sector.

    It is foolish to use any non-governing agency in any regulation. These organizations can and often do make changes to their own codes based on who is owning or operating a facility. Fact, one county is now using SPCA to support their animal control; if you believe that these people are credentialed to do actual onsite visits then you are wrong again – SPCA failed to report the lack of perimeter fencing. If the USDA inspectors overlooked this fact and didn’t report it since they believe that double enclosures were safe enough then they did not communicate this to the local and state authorities for this facility to be exempt from this regulation.

    In other words, I have seen videos and photos from private owners of dangerous exotic animals and I can vouch that their infrastructure is safer than many of the roadside zoos and sanctuaries.

    • I agree with you that there are likely “some” private owners of dangerous animals who do a better job than others, but since all private owners of “pet” dangerous animals are unknown to regulation, inspection, and usually their neighbors as well, no one knows what conditions most live in.

      If you are concerned about welfare then you should support a law that will concern it self with at least minimum welfare standards that private owners today do not need to consider unless they want to. I also agree that “roadside zoos and sanctuaries” are problems ESPECIALLY if they are uninspected and unaccountable to anyone.

      Let a full comparison between AZA, USDA, ZAA, GFAS, and any other possible expemption be made public, and in fact if you have a local USDA licensed facility near you and you don’t think they are safe pull their USDA inspection reports your self…. they are posted on line, and available to the public. Then you will know who is serious minded and who is not.

      I would not want to live next to someone who was cited for not having appropriate containment for a dangerous animal, and I would also want to know if that person was cited so I could take protective steps with my family. I would expect some kind of immediate action on the part of that person or organization to fix it. By the way, you clearly are an animal rights advocate. You just gravitate towards the middle of the road, and look at welfare as I do.

      • I am a middle of the road and Animal Welfare – not AR extremist. Fully agree with you that private owners of dangerous wild animals should have facilities that meet better standards than those listed in the AWA that only has minimum standards. AWA needs to be changed to allow for private owners so they are part of the system in order to be inspected. As the AWA stands now only exhibitors and breeders can have a USDA license and may private owners do not want to exhibit in accordance with the AWA requirements.

        I have a problem with sanctuaries that are often given exemptions and those exemptions are not necessarily reported by the AWA to local or state authorities. Do you know that these sanctuaries can transport animals such as a Tiger in an enclosure strapped onto a flat bed trailer? They do not have to have a full perimeter fence around the compound. An example is a sanctuary in Texas that is within 2.59 miles from public schools and several hundred feet from a park and 50+ feet from other neighbors and they did not have a perimeter fence to prevent animals from escaping or at least a barrier that would allow them to recapture the animal. They say that they are safe, but in fact, it is an illusion. They state that their animals never leave their enclosures when they are moved into new enclosures or shifted into enclosures for travel. I don’t appreciate that these animals are not contained enough to prevent incidents. In fact, this one sanctuary knew I was waiting on someone a few feet outside of a building and without any warning or asking me to move to another area; came out with a cougar on a leash and three volunteers with one holding a squirt bottle with vinegar mix brought this animal within a couple of feet from me.

        Sanctuaries predominately utilize volunteers to replace credential staff that AZA zoos hire to have direct contact with their animals; hence, these sanctuaries are often on such tight budgets that they do not perform any back ground checks on volunteers that have access to keys to the enclosures. Many of these volunteers do not have any training under a master animal handler or have experience in animal care and husbandry. It should also be noted that sanctuaries in many states do not require reporting of any incidents of animal attack on a volunteer and if they did go into an ER their records do not reflect it was animal related. Many volunteers will not report minor injuries because they fear that the sanctuary will get reported and/or animals may confiscated by authorities.

        Sanctuaries often make claims in regards to the animals coming from abusive private owners or breeders when in fact, several animals at various facilities were actually bred or purchased by the owner of the sanctuary. In other words, many of these facilities have been receiving tax benefits and donations to pay for the care of their privately owned animals. One sanctuary had stated that a lion in their care was due to the animal was at large after killing his owner and the owner’s wife finding his body committed suicide. Fact from the local news paper indicated that the sheriff’s department in killed the lion. Another one claims that they rescued a white tiger cub from a breeder; when in fact they later stated on another website that they had asked someone if they knew of anyone with white tiger cubs, went to visit and brought this particular cub home and 13 months later cashed in a 401 and paid the breeder $10,000…their website listed this animal as a rescue…once again this animal was bought with private money and is considered a privately owned pet.

        I believe that there are common sense solutions to this problem and it starts with Zoos and commercial breeders taking responsibility for over producing that there are more animals than there are owners or sanctuaries that can accept them.

        States need to ensure that any owner of a dangerous wild animal or sanctuary are either banned from areas within 5 miles of schools, parks or other public places or that they have stricter regulations. All states and localities must at least meet the AWA minimum requirements, but nothing prohibits them from exceeding those standards to ensure the animal’s welfare and public safety.


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