Ohio governor pushes exotic animals reform

Gov. John Kasich on Friday ordered temporary measures to crack down on private ownership of exotic wild animals while tougher laws are drafted this fall.

He also announced that a northeast Ohio auction house long known as a source for animals including bear and tiger cubs is continuing a self-imposed ban.

The moves come after dozens of lions, bears and tigers were shot to death by police in Zanesville after their owner freed them Tuesday and then killed himself.

The owner, Terry Thompson, released the animals weeks after he got out of prison on federal weapons charges and while facing financial problems and troubles managing his animal farm.

The state will work with health departments and humane societies to better enforce existing laws, try to temporarily halt other auction sales and shut down unlicensed auctions under Kasich's executive order.

Ohio also will review existing permits it issues to people who own wild animals native to the state, such as black bears. Thompson had four black bear permits.

Kasich said the state will work with zoos to see which could accept confiscated animals and will try to help any that take them.

The Republican governor defended his decision last spring to let a tougher order signed by his Democratic predecessor expire while the legislative process went forward. He said a committee now has put drafting new laws on a fast track for the end of next month.

"Governors can't just invent laws," Kasich said. "I really wish I could have the power just to enact any law I want, but we have a system of government that doesn't do that."

An auction business in the heart of northeast Ohio's Amish country told state officials Friday that it would continue a ban on selling exotic animals.

The ban went into effect Jan. 1 at the family-owned Mt. Hope Auction, owner/manager Thurman Mullet said. An affiliated operation previously had sold bear, tiger and bobcat cubs but nothing over 20 pounds, Mullet said.

"We do not accept wolves, bears, tigers, or cats of any kind, also included are large primates such as Baboons, Gorillas, Orangutans, and chimpanzees," the auction's website says.

Kasich's action was welcome but doesn't go far enough, said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States.

"The problem is not just illegal auctions," he said. "We must ban the trade in these animals."

He said his group for years has been "deeply concerned" about the situation in Ohio, which has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets and among the highest number of injuries and deaths caused by them.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols pointed out that humane societies have had the power for decades under Ohio law to bring animal cruelty charges.

Animal owner Kenny Hetrick of Tiger Ridge Exotics in Perrysburg said he understands that the governor had to respond, but pointed out that Thompson's animals did not escape, but were set loose.

"Now everybody in Ohio, like me, has to suffer the consequences for what he did," he said.

Hetrick has six tigers, three lions and other animals that are mostly rescues and castaways.

Hetrick also said he thinks animal owners like him should be part of the process when new laws are drafted. He said an all-out ban on exotics is unreasonable because "what are you going to do with 1,000 tigers?"

Thompson was convicted in 2005 of starving three cows and a bison at a farm, amid numerous complaints from neighbors that he wasn't feeding his animals.

That conviction would have made Thompson ineligible to have his exotic wild animals under the order issued by former Gov. Ted Strickland before he left office in early 2011, Pacelle said. But it's unclear if or when Thompson would have lost the animals he had.

--- Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached at http://twitter.com/awhcol

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)