Months before Ohio authorities were forced to kill dozens of dangerous wild creatures let loose from their cages last fall, an animal owners group had been working with officials to help write proposed regulations on exotic animals in the state.
But now that the legislation is before state lawmakers, the Ohio Association of Animal Owners is gunning for the bill's demise, saying it's unfair.
The group boasts more than 8,000 members, whose pets range from domestic cats to Bengal tigers. They and other pet owners have packed Senate hearings on the bill and plan to keep urging state lawmakers through phone calls and letters to scrap the proposal.
Ohio has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets. Efforts to strengthen the regulations took on new urgency after owner Terry Thompson let 56 animals _ including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers _ escape from his eastern Ohio farm before committing suicide on Oct. 18.
"After Zanesville, things just kind of blew up," said Polly Britton, a lobbyist for the owners association. "Our strategy has had to change."
So-called casual ownership of exotic animals would no longer be easy in Ohio.
The measure would ban new ownership of exotic animals, allowing current owners to keep their pets by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and meeting other conditions. Permit fees for keeping boas or venomous snakes would start at $100, while fees for lions, tigers and other dangerous animals would begin at $500. Insurance policies for dangerous animals could reach as high as $1 million, depending on the number kept.
Owners would be required to pass a background check, obtain liability insurance, implant microchips in their pets and show inspectors that they adhere to care standards and have taken safety measures such as fencing property.
Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups and licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would be exempt, along with sanctuaries and research institutions.
The owners association sees the bill as unworkable because it says zoos and private owners aren't operating on the same playing field and don't have the same financial resources.
"We're looking for a bill that's fair and consistent," Britton said in a recent interview. "Everybody from the public zoos to the private, non-commercial owner should have to meet the same requirements, so that these animals can't get out and hurt anybody."
The group also wants to see all federally licensed facilities exempted from the permit fees and rules in the bill, among other changes.
"The list of amendments would be so long, we don't think all of them would get passed," Britton said. "And if they aren't all passed, then the bill is still unacceptable."
Janet and Gary Campbell are among the dozens of owners who have called on lawmakers to roll back the restrictions. The couple lives in Logan, which is about 50 miles southeast of Columbus, with three capuchin monkeys and a black-handed spider monkey.
"They have a wonderful place here," Janet Campbell said. "They are happy here." Continued...