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Exotic pet law takes effect

By Lauren Williams
On September 11, 2012

Sep. 5, The Ohio Department of Agriculture set into motion the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, requiring all exotic wildlife and restricted snakes to be registered online at the department's website.

This registration makes up a segment of Senate Bill 310, legislation passed on June 5, 2012. It increased the standards of the possession, sales and treatment of dangerous animals. The need for this law was augmented by the tragedy on Oct. 19, 2011 in Zanesville, Ohio, in which Muskingum County Animal farm owner Terry Thompson released 52 exotic animals; 48 were shot by the police.

Ashley McDonald, public information officer for the Division of Animal Health for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said the incident certainly fueled the development of these requirements.

"We realized there's a definite need to protect the public and make sure that we know the animals that are out there meet the proper safety standards and neighbors know there [are] dangerous animals in the area," McDonald said.

The animals must be registered online between now and Nov. 5, 2012. Registration consists of documentation of the name and address of the owner, the location of the animal facility and the veterinarian providing care. After Jan. 1, 2014, the buying and selling of all exotic animals and restricted snakes will be prohibited. Permits for possession after the Nov. 5 deadline will be available in Oct. 2013. Depending on the number of animals, the price of the permit fee will range from $250 to $1,000.

The act has also established new consequences for animal owners who choose not to comply with the standards of the law. The first time an animal is allowed to roam will be a misdemeanor, McDonald said, with the second becoming a felony. The owner will be automatically charged with a felony if the animal was knowingly released.

"After January of 2014 the ODA could be authorized by the court to seize the animals," McDonald said. "We would hold them and if the owner was willing to work to be compliant with the law [the animals] could potentially be released back to the owner. If not, we would find them a more stable and safe place for them to live out the rest of their years."

PETA campaigner Hayden Hamilton said she is glad Ohio is finally making a legislative response to the Zanesville incident.

"The best part is just the fact that they banned the sale," Hamilton said. "Because of the tragedy in Zanesville, it allowed Ohio to really consider the laws that they have in place."

Though this is a big step for Ohio, there still are some venues, such as circuses, that are exempt from the regulations.

"It's really unfortunate that circuses are exempt," Hamilton said. "But it's always a great thing when states start making legislative changes. It sets the tone for other states."

Miami University senior and animal rights activist Allison Kemper said these legislative efforts will be most helpful once the buying and selling of exotic animals is banned everywhere.

"I think that it's a good step in the right direction," Kemper said, "I'm glad something's actually happening to owners that can't meet the needs of exotic animals."

Still, the law comes with sadness as it took a tragedy to make it happen, Kemper said.

"It took a big event that affected the whole community," Kemper said, "and people should have figured out before this happened that there shouldn't be tigers and giraffes and lions in someone's backyard."

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