Deirdre Herbert of Elyria found a small measure of peace Tuesday when Gov. John Kasich signed a law that prohibits people from buying new dangerous exotic animals.
Her son, 24-year-old Brent Kandra, was mauled by a captive bear in Columbia Station in August 2010, and she hopes the new law will prevent similar tragedies.
“In Ohio you need a license to own a dog, but you didn’t for a lion or tiger,” Herbert said. “I feel tremendous relief — I’m ecstatic.”
Thirty miles away in Ashland County, Denise Flores worried about the fate of an estimated 600 exotic animals in the state, including her tigers at Tiger Paw Exotic Rescue & Rehabilitation Center.
She and her husband, Jose, operate the shelter on state Route 511, a few miles south of the Lorain-Ashland County line.
In anticipation of the new law, they already sent four of their eight big cats to other rescue centers.
They plan to meet the requirements of the legislation but will scramble to come up with the money to pay for liability insurance, expected to cost at least $5,000 a year.
“Financially, I don’t think we would have been able to handle it with eight animals,” Flores said. “I placed the four youngest cats in other states because I believe they deserve a chance at life.”
If other exotic pet owners in Ohio don’t comply, Flores worries the animals will be euthanized or sold off to “canned hunts,” where people kill exotic animals for a price.
“They stick them in a cage and shoot them for $10,000 to $15,000,” Flores said. “It’s black market stuff.”
The new law, which takes effect in three months, would require current owners to register exotic animals with the state within 60 days of the bill’s effective date.
Both Herbert and Flores testified before the Ohio Legislature on the law.
Herbert spoke in favor of the legislation, which would require owners to obtain a new state-issued permit by 2014 and adhere to strict new caretaking standards.
Had the law been in effect when her son was killed, the criminal record of the bear’s owner, Sam Mazzola, would have prohibited him from owning the bears, lions, tigers and wolves he was keeping at a compound on Marks Road, she said.
Herbert said the criminal record of another exotic pet owner, Terry Thompson, would have stopped him from keeping some 50 animals — including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers — on his farm in Zanesville.
It was Thompson’s release of his wild animals before his suicide in October that focused worldwide attention on the problem, showing how the public might be endangered and focused attention on Ohio’s laws, which were among the most lax in the nation, Herbert said.
Herbert said she wasn’t surprised she was not invited to the signing ceremony, because she has not always seen eye-to-eye with Kasich on the need for oversight.
Her son suffered some 600 separate wounds to the head, torso and extremities on Aug. 19, 2010.
Several months later, then-Gov. Ted Strickland issued a 90-day ban on the private ownership of exotic animals as he was preparing to leave the governor’s office.
Kasich let the ban expire three months later and named a committee to draft recommendations.
Herbert said she was working with that committee when the Thompson incident Oct. 18 “put Ohio in a bad spotlight.”
Most of the animals Thompson released were killed by authorities.
Herbert said she was pleased that Kasich signed the bill while acknowledging that Ohio “was really the wild, wild West” regarding exotic animals before its passage.
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The measure takes effect Sept. 3 and requires the director of agriculture to establish standards for the care and housing of wild animals, including their feeding.
Meanwhile, Flores said she plans to proceed with putting microchips in her tigers, Sammie, Taz, Ticha and Delilah.
She’ll also have to neuter Sammie, although he is 16 and approaching senior citizen status as a tiger.
While she doesn’t agree with all of the law’s provisions, Flores said she does hope that it will put the brakes on the sale of exotic animals to those who know little about their care.
“I want the breeding and selling to stop,” she said.
Flores said she testified against the bill but was sympathetic to Herbert after meeting her and seeing how other opponents of the law treated her.
She said she was livid after hearing one exotic animal enthusiast tell Herbert her son “deserved what he got.”
“I was furious,” Flores said. “She’s a very fine woman, and her son did not deserve that.”
Flores said she had worked with Mazzola and did not approve of his cages in Columbia Station because there was no way to lock down the animals so humans could enter the cages safely to feed them.
She demonstrated her own lockdown cages, which are large wooden boxes that the tigers appear to willingly enter upon instruction and encouragement.
In recent months, the couple also put up 8-foot fences topped with another two feet of barbed wire to comply with federal safety requirements.
Despite her concerns about Mazzola’s facility, Flores said she gave him some meat for his animals shortly before he died from asphyxia from a foreign object in his airway on July 10, 2011. Authorities said the death occurred during sex play.
After his death, Flores and her husband took two of Mazzola’s white tigers, which they recently sent on to other rescue facilities.
As for Herbert, she said she will continue to fight on for the sake of the animals and those who care for them.
Mazzola gave conflicting accounts of what happened, but Herbert said a sheriff’s report suggests her son was alone with the raging animal for at least five minutes before Mazzola set off a fire extinguisher to scare off the bear.
“I couldn’t imagine what was going on in his mind,” Herbert said. “I pray he went into shock immediately.”
“Brent bled out right there in the barn,” she said. “He had no chance of survival.”
The left ventricle of his heart was punctured, his left lung was lacerated in several places, and a thigh and both arms were severely injured.
Hospital bills totaled $160,000 for the five hours he was treated before his death, she said.
“If Brent had survived, he would have required years of therapy, and he might never have been able to use his forearms because they were nearly chewed off,” she said.
The only charges Mazzola faced after Kandra’s death accused Mazzola of failing to properly keep records on some of his animals.
Mazzola was fined $250 and given a suspended jail sentence after pleading no contest to those charges.
At the time of his death, the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation was investigating whether Mazzola had proper insurance and whether Kandra was an employee. Mazzola also was facing allegations he had violated the terms of his probation on federal charges stemming from the illegal sale and transport of exotic animals.
Herbert said she’s also grateful for the stronger laws for the sake of the exotic animals, which are often kept in small cages and walk, sleep and eat on concrete.
“It’s going to benefit these animals that have been caged inhumanely,” she said.
Q&A about the new law
Will current owners be able to keep their dangerous exotic animals?
Yes. Current owners can keep their creatures by obtaining a new state-issued wildlife shelter permit by Jan. 1, 2014. They must be at least 18 years old, pass a background check, pay permit fees, obtain liability insurance or surety bonds, and show inspectors that they can properly contain the animal and adhere to other caretaking standards. Owners must have a microchip installed in their dangerous animals so they can be identified if lost or if they escape, and they must register the animals with the state by Nov. 2. They’ll have to tell Ohio officials where the animals are, how many they have, what the creatures look like and who their veterinarian is, among other details. Signs would have to be posted on their property to alert people there are dangerous animals on the premises.
Can people purchase new lions, wolves or other dangerous, wild animals?
No. With few exceptions, people will be banned from buying, selling, trading, or transferring ownership of the exotic creatures as soon as the law takes effect on Sept. 3.
What are some of the animals included in the ban and new permit restrictions?
The legislation defines “dangerous wild animals” as hyenas, elephants, lions, tigers, jaguars, gray wolves, leopards, bears, cheetahs, alligators, crocodiles, Komodo dragons, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and large primates, such as gorillas and baboons, along with others.
Are there exemptions in the law?
Yes. The new rules won’t apply to certain owners and animals. For instances, owners of smaller monkeys, such as certain marmosets or capuchins, will only have to register the primate, but wouldn’t have to get a state-issued permit. Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups also will be exempt from the law, along with sanctuaries, circuses and research institutions.
What about snakes?
Current and new ownership of venomous and constricting snakes can continue, but new rules will apply. The law creates a category of restricted snakes that includes anacondas, pythons, constricting snakes that are 12 feet or longer, and other specified venomous snakes. Those owners that don’t intend to breed or sell would have to pay a $150 application fee with the state to keep them, regardless of how many they own. Owners of restricted snakes, with the exception of constricting snakes, will also have to get liability insurance policies ranging from $100,000 to $500,000, depending on the number snakes.
How many dangerous wild animals will the new law affect?
That’s unknown. Rough estimates by the state’s agriculture department put the number of dangerous animals in Ohio close to 640, but that figure includes some venomous snakes. The officials based the estimated inventory on information from owners who already are licensed with state or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with reports from law enforcement.
How much will the new regulation program cost Ohio?
Estimated costs for the first year are $600,000 to $720,000. The Legislature set aside $500,000 to help with the startup of the program. The administration hopes to help pay for it with permit fees from owners.
How much will current owners have to pay in fees to keep their dangerous wild animals?
Permits for bears, tigers and other dangerous animals will begin at $250 and could be more than $1,000, depending on the number of animals. Owners could start applying for permits with the agriculture department by Oct. 1, 2013. The state’s agriculture director has 90 days after receiving the application to issue or deny the permit. Insurance policies for the creatures could range from $200,000 to as high as $1 million, depending on the number of animals.
What happens to the animals of owners who are denied state-issued permits or can’t meet the new requirements?
The state will try to work with the owner to find new homes for the creatures. But if the owner refuses to give up the animals, the state would seize them.
Contact Cindy Leise at 329-7245 or firstname.lastname@example.org.