April 20, 2014

Elyria
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Reform urged on owning exotic animals

The four dozen escaped animals near Zanesville have drawn attention to the issue of restricting the sale and ownership of dangerous exotic animals.

“Zanesville could have been preventable,” said Elyria resident Deirdre Herbert, the mother of Brent Kandra, who was killed by a bear housed at the late Sam Mazzola’s compound in Columbia Township. Kandra suffered about 600 wounds during the attack.

After Kandra’s death in August 2010, former Gov. Ted Strickland issued an executive order temporarily banning the sale and private ownership of exotic animals, including big cats, bears and crocodiles.

However, Gov. John Kasich’s administration allowed the 90-day ban to expire in April.

Rob Nichols, a Kasich spokesman, said Strickland’s executive order was unworkable because it lacked an enforcement mechanism. Nichols said that even if the ban had been in effect, the state would have had no legal authority to shut down Terry Thompson’s Muskingum County farm.

“You have to pursue it legislatively,” he said.

Thompson let his animals escape before shooting himself Tuesday. Sheriff’s deputies in Muskingum County killed 48 animals, which included 18 Bengal tigers and 17 lions, according to The Associated Press.

Nichols said a task force of various groups, including the Ohio chapter of the U.S. Humane Society and the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, which advocates for the rights of private citizens to keep exotic animals, will have policy recommendations ready for the state Legislature in about a month. The task force has been meeting for several months, Nichols said. The Humane Society would like to see the private ownership of exotic animals banned.

Both Herbert and the U.S. Humane Society are calling for Kasich to issue an executive order similar to Strickland’s, which could ban the practice until permanent legislation is enacted. Ohio is one of seven states that does not have any restrictions on the sale or private ownership of dangerous animals at all, said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the society.

“It is the wild, wild west here in Ohio,” Herbert said. “You can buy them for next to nothing.”

Pacelle said the state could have shut Thompson’s farm down if the ban had remained in effect, because even though current exotic animal owners were grandfathered in, Thompson’s conviction for animal cruelty would have prevented him from continuing to keep them.

“These animals do not belong in people’s backyards or bedrooms or basements,” Pacelle said.

U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Copley Township, also agreed with the Humane Society.

“For the safety of our families and communities, and for the safety of every animal, it is important that Gov. Kasich reinstate and enforce former Gov. Strickland’s order that bans the sale and transfer of these wild animals while working to pass strong permanent laws against wild animal sale and transfer,” Sutton said in a statement. “The incident in our state this week was tragic, and we must take steps to prevent this from happening again.”

Contact Kiera Manion-Fischer at 329-7123 or kfischer@chroniclet.com.