New Ohio law may close exotic animal refuge in Stony RidgeWritten by Kevin Moore | | email@example.com
Kenny Hetrick, owner of Tiger Ridge Exotics in Stony Ridge, has operated an exotic animal shelter and rescue facility from his home for 38 years. Home to bears, wolves and a wide array of big cats, Tiger Ridge is now subject to new state legislation that its owner says unfairly targets him.
In October 2011, Terry Thompson, owner of Muskingum County Exotic Animal Farm in Zanesville, Ohio, released 56 exotic animals before committing suicide. Of the 56 released animals, 48 were killed by law enforcement. The incident prompted state legislators to revisit the issue of exotic animal ownership by drafting Senate Bill 310, the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act. The bill was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich on June 5, 2012, and the governor released a statement calling it “a real model for the rest of America about how to do this in a reasonable way.”
The Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, which goes into effect Jan. 1, 2014, states that “no person shall possess a dangerous wild animal [or] … acquire, buy, sell, trade, or transfer possession or ownership of a dangerous wild animal” with the exception of a few specified groups, such as members of the Zoological Association of America, accredited research facilities and circuses. Under the new law, exotic animal sanctuaries and rescue facilities like Tiger Ridge Exotics may continue their activities if they register for a permit from the Ohio Director of Agriculture and comply with all facility regulations.
The Akron Beacon Journal reports that more than 150 exotic animal owners have registered animals in preparation for the new requirement.
“There is so much regulation in this new law,” said Hetrick, who runs Tiger Ridge with his family. “We have to put ID microchips in all my animals to register them with the state and get them neutered. We have 25 year-old lions; they won’t survive being tranquilized for that. I did that with my grizzly bear, and she died two days later. We have to install dig barriers (lions don’t dig, by the way), carry $1 million in insurance and even though this is a rescue facility taking in the animals confiscated from someone else, we still have to pay a permit fee.”
The law stipulates that a “wildlife shelter” pay a permit fee of $1,000 if it has more than 15 animals plus $125 for each additional animal. Tiger Ridge has about 30 exotic animals.
Exotic animal sanctuaries like Tiger Ridge are already regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and Hetrick, a former law enforcement officer, maintains he is very responsible with his animals and that his shelter is regularly inspected and approved by the federal government. “It’s not as if there have been no laws on the books. The USDA inspectors come in unannounced three or four times a year and they look at the animals, examine their food, check their veterinary records and inspect my fencing. They even thoroughly search my house. We have a great record with the feds: No one’s ever been bit, and no animal has ever gotten loose.”
Tiger Ridge, which operates on a donation basis, recently made several updates to its facilities with the aid of teams of volunteers, including the addition of 4-foot inward-facing overhangs to its big cat cages, in order to comply with changes in USDA regulations. But Hetrick insists the requirements of the new state law are excessive and needlessly go beyond federal regulations. For example, he said, a new requirement states that the mesh of the cage’s overhangs and the chain link that makes up the fence be of the same specified grade. “They know most small places can’t afford these things. They want all the private zoos closed,” he said. “It’s not fair they won’t make us exempt or grandfather us in.”
Hetrick’s daughter, Corinna, also believes the Ohio law unfairly targets small, private exotic animal facilities. “Exemptions exist in the law,” she said. “The Toledo Zoo gets an exemption for being a member of the Zoological Association, but our USDA requirements are the same as thiers. We shouldn’t be treated differently just because we’re not a multimillion dollar business or getting taxpayer money. The animals in Zanesville didn’t figure out how to escape, dig their way out or jump fences. They were set loose. Now we’re being lumped in the same group as [Thompson] and these excessive rules single out places like ours.”
Perhaps most disturbing for Hetrick and his family is the creation of a $2.9 million containment facility in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, designed to temporarily house exotic animals seized from owners not in compliance with the new law. The high-security facility is equipped with cameras, electric fences and a double wall around the building’s perimeter.
“It’s a prison for these animals, a penitentiary really,” Hetrick said. The Associated Press reported that the facility, which opened in March and has already started receiving some confiscated animals, has been the target of much criticism for feeding some of the animals “junk food” like pizza and Mountain Dew. A spokesperson for Ohio Department of Agriculture, however, said the animals were already accustomed to human food and needed to be weaned off it to a more nutritious diet.
The Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, which was supported by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society, is currently under review with Sixth District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati after the Ohio Association of Animal Owners filed an appeal following U.S. District Judge George Smith’s decision to uphold the law last year.
For more information on Tiger Ridge Exotics, visit the web site www.tigerridgecats.com.
Tags: Akron Beacon Journal, Associated Press, Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society, Gov. John Kasich, Kenny Hetrick, Muskingum County Exotic Animal Farm, OH, Ohio Associate of Animal Owners, Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Reynoldsburg, Sixth District Court of Appeals in Cincinnatti, Stony Ridge, Terry Thompson, The Toledo Zoo, Tiger Ridge Exotics, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), U.S. District Judge George Smith, Zanesville, Zoological Associate of America, Zoological Association