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Ohio exotic animal owners fear for the lives of their animals

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Since the passing of SB 310, introduced by Senator Balderson, Ohio’s exotic owners have been given until December 31st, 2013 by 5 p.m. to have all requirements met and applications sent. It might seem simple and the so-called responsible thing to do – until you dig deeper and understand all that is involved. Just one example is seen at Death By Legislation, with many having even more expense.

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SB 310 laid out some, but not all of the requirements. Some were later written by the Ohio Department of Agriculture and changes have been made as recently as two weeks ago. A new form was added, needed to send in the application along with the many other forms, affidavits and proof of various regulations being complied with to remain legal. Background checks are also a requirement. The many documents needed to be read add up a quite lengthy list of costs and requirements.

Many people still think or claim this new eventual ban was caused by the release of the Thompson’s animals in Zanesville. The media hype made it center stage and repeats it as the cause over and over. A little research proves this piece of legislation is the result of a deal between past Governor Strickland, Ohio Farm Bureau and HSUS, the Humane Society of the United States – an animal rights organization involved in lobbying states to ban many types of animal keeping before the Zanesville incident happened. In exchange for “leaving alone” certain farming sectors for a time, Ohio Farm Bureau and Governor Strickland agreed to get exotic animal ownership and dog breeding banned. This sheds a little different light on the real facts behind why this legislation was pushed through.

Dr. Stull resigned his position with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and was part of the DWA, Dangerous Wild Animal division. During a phone call months ago, he agreed the law was very poorly written yet could do nothing but enforce it. Some people claim his personal ethics didn’t allow enforcement of ridiculous laws and hence, his resignation.

Many phone calls and emails to the office of the program administrator, Candice Miller, remain unanswered, calls not returned (one since Aug. 6th), questions not answered. A recent letter received by those registering in the preliminary stage gives a phone number lists a number “If we can be of assistance during the application process, please feel free to contact us at 1-855-DWA-OHIO (292-6446).” This would be nice if they returned calls – and if this number, 855-292-6446, didn’t go to Direct TV!

Introductory visits were made by three employees of the DWA division of ODA in the past couple months. Answers given to owners differed and some were not known, no answer given. At one owner’s house, David Hunt, also associated with HSUS, got pushy about being let in an owner’s house, claiming they will be allowed after applying for a permit and will get a search warrant if necessary. There is no need for state power pushes and intimidation by employees, simply because they’ve been put in a position to go meet registered owners. Most people do not consider that a courteous introduction. Exotic animal owners are not criminals and there is no need to treat them as such. Many of these animals have been kept and loved as family members for many years.

The two much younger women in charge of inspecting appear to have little exotic experience as a newly graduated veterinarian and young farm livestock inspector. While statistics show far less incidences with exotics than commonly accepted livestock and pets, experience and knowledge are necessary.

After hearing much testimony at the statehouse, it became apparent the law is written to eliminate the animals, even if it means death for those currently in Ohio. Every sanctuary testifying for the bill admitted they did not have room or money to take the animals (without additional funding - donations or from the state) and all zoos testified they could not keep the animals. The claimed exemptions given are not easily obtainable, except for very few people. The ZAA requires two references to even apply to be a member with many other hoops to jump through, taking time, money and again, more referrals for accreditation. The AZA exemption is for zoos and almost impossible, except for large city zoos operating on public funds. GFAS exemption is impossible unless one joins the ranks of the animal rights crusaders and agrees to renounce private ownership. The “special permit” exemption through ODNR has proof they intend to no longer issue those permits due to exotic owners getting them as an exemption.

Time and money have made it near impossible for many owners to comply with the new lengthy list of requirements. With very little time given to comply with expensive requirements, the ODA and Governor Kasich should give a six month extension, at the very least, for owners to comply – and also look at changing some of the requirements. The cost of insurance alone is far above the means of many owners, with few options to shop around since it is only offered by a handful of companies in the U.S. Requiring an extravagant amount for pet owners is likely to cause deaths, just as the pit bull ban did – which is now overturned. Many dogs died needlessly due to this one requirement, insurance.

Many healthy animals kept for many years by self-supporting private owners risk being euthanized due to power plays at the statehouse. Director of Agriculture, David Daniels (appointed by Gov. Kasich), is said to have denied an extension asked for by an owner, flat out. Governor Kasich, some Senators and Representatives have only used this scenario to further their political careers by paying or repaying favors. With the state spending almost three million dollars to build a facility to temporarily house confiscated exotic animals; it would seem common sense to quit spending to kill animals long owned by Ohio citizens.

Senator Cliff Hite (appointed to the senate by Gov. Kasich) told one owner to go spend time with the kids, grandkids, family. It’s sad when one has no view beyond their own lives, not realizing the animals are also considered family by most owners.

An example of costs is seen on DeathByLegislation, estimated costs for an owner of eighteen years, one not making any money on the animals or having outside help as sanctuaries depend on. Others have even more expensive tasks and requirements to comply with, while some have had their animals longer, some less. The killing of animals will far exceed the number killed in Zanesville unless the public speaks out, demands our state agencies and elected officials pay favors to the citizens – not each other and special interest groups with more money.

Timing deadlines set for supposedly a joyous time of year and also during freezing weather when the ground is solid makes for difficult, if not impossible, outside work needing done. Six months and clarification of the rules, with possible changes to stop needless killing of animals is not too much to ask of our government and ruling agencies.

With less than two weeks left, Ohio exotic animal owners are begging for time, relief and the lives of their animals. Ohio’s rulers need to hear – and listen.

The holiday season is not going to be a joyous time for many exotic animal owners with the costs involved and the fear of death for their cherished animals, all due to political games played at their expense. It’s understandable if many exotic animal owners do not wish Governor Kasich, ODA director David Daniels, HSUS and many of our Senators and Representatives a Merry Christmas – they will have theirs, while making others miserable, broke and in fear of losing family members – their animals.

A first-hand account of the Zanesville incident is found in the book "Eighteen Days to the Massacre," as told by animal care taker at the Thompson's, John Moore, and written by Teresa Headley or find more information at the Facebook page.

Many Ohio exotic animal owners are staying quiet, hoping that earns them time, gets them ignored or overlooked. The fear is the same, they just do it quietly. No citizen should have to fear having their animals taken due to overreaching laws enacted to appease special interest groups, whether a farm lobbying group or an animal rights group.

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