The state’s new regulations on exotic animals take effect today. It bans new ownership of tigers, lions, bears, venomous snakes and other potentially dangerous animals.
And Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler reports some current owners are struggling financially and emotionally to meet the law’s strict new rules.
These next few days and weeks will be busy at Stump Hill Farm in Massillon in Stark County, as owner Cindy Huntsman tries to figure out how she can follow the new regulations on exotic animals and the facilities where they’re housed.
“52 of our animals will be affected by this bill. They’re banned. Tigers, lions, leopards, cougars.”
And 130 miles south in Fairfield County near Lancaster, David Cziraky at Rescue One has also been preparing for the new package of rules.
“Well, we’ve already dealt with it. We sent our animals to other sanctuaries out of state.”
Cziraky says 22 lions, tigers, cougars and a black bear were sent to sanctuaries out of state because he says his 12-year old sanctuary couldn’t handle the financial outlay and workload needed to meet the new rules on liability insurance, permits and registration and on caging and microchipping of the animals. Cziraky says these animals were part of his family.
“(Kasler: Was this a difficult decision to make emotionally?)
Very difficult. Yeah, very difficult, yeah, so. I still have a hard time.”
The law’s backers say it was needed to prevent another tragedy like the situation in Zanesville last October, when dozens of exotic animals were shot and killed after their owner released them from their cages and shot himself, and they ran off. Cziraky says he agrees more regulations are needed, but not an outright ban. And that leads to another reason Cziraky says he sent his animals away - he fears what might have happened if they were seized by the state. The Agriculture Department is in the process of building a facility to hold seized animals on its campus in Reynoldsburg east of Columbus. It’s expected to be a climate-controlled building surrounded by redundant fencing, and that it could hold up to 60 animals and snakes – they’d stay in cages and never venture outside. Ag Director David Daniels says it’ll be expensive, but needed to take in animals that could endanger the public.
“We hope that we’ll be able to hold it to $2 to $2.5 million. The daily operations of course are dependent on the number of animals that we may or may – we hope that we’ll never have one. But if we do, I mean the operation cost depends on how many animals that we do take in.”
Daniels says it’ll be a holding pen to keep animals till they can be sent to sanctuaries or until their owners can meet the regulations. But Huntsman and Cziraky say sanctuaries are filling up and zoos can’t take the animals, so they believe the facility has a much more sinister purpose.
“All that’s going to be is a euthanasia step. As they seize them, they’ll be euthanized.”
“Yes, that’s exactly what they’re going to do, yeah. There’s no way they can afford to keep them up and they’re just – that’s what they’re gonna do.”
Daniels says he can understand that suspicion, but that’s not the intent.
“I think that we would envision bringing those animals in and caring for them until we can find a permanent home. And we have been looking all over the United States to locate those facilities.
Kasler: So it’s not in the plan to euthanize these animals?
Not at this time.
Kasler: Was that ever part of the plan? I don’t know that that’s ever been part of the discussion that I’ve had.
Daniels estimates the facility could cost half a million dollars a year to maintain depending on the number, type and condition of animals it’s holding. At Stump Hill Farm in Massillon, Cindy Huntsman says she’s thinking about the state’s money – which she says this law wastes.
“This bill will cost the taxpayers millions. The easy fix was simply to require people to become USDA licensed and to have insurance. It doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime with that type of regulation.”
Huntsman says because she says half of the revenue to keep her place going comes from visitors and from educational programs she does in schools, at day care centers and festivals. And she says unless she meets the state’s requirements, she won’t be able to do those programs or allow visitors to stop by, so right now, she’s not sure Stump Hill Farm will stay open.