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Why can’t Ohio lawmakers write exotic animal law?

February 22, 2012
Salem News

Last October a man living near Zanesville unlocked the cages of 56 exotic - and dangerous - animals before committing suicide. Among them were lions, tigers and bears capable of killing human beings in a split-second.

Muskingum County Sheriff Matt Lutz had no choice but to order deputies to kill the animals. When the carnage ended, 48 of them, including endangered Bengal tigers, were dead.

State officials quickly pledged to enact a law restricting ownership of such creatures. Nearly four months later, nothing has been done.

Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna, of Columbus, pronounced himself "in a state of shock" over that failure recently. He added, "folks, you're not dealing with some little issue of animals here. You're dealing with bombs."

Hanna is correct. Throughout Ohio - and many other states - there are few or no limits on ownership of dangerous animals.

As many as 200 tigers are kept by private owners in Ohio, Hanna has estimated. Add to that lions, cougars, leopards, bears and other potentially dangerous animals, and it is clear there is risk to the public.

For nearly four months legislators have debated various aspects of a law to regulate ownership of such animals. Yet no action has been taken, in part because of concern about mini-manageries already in existence in the Buckeye State.

It may be that some accommodations have to be made. Surely the General Assembly is capable of enacting a bill that provides at least some safeguards against disasters such as that near Zanesville.

State and federal governments have found ways to regulate a variety of potentially dangerous behaviors. Sports car enthusiasts are subject to speed limits. Machine guns cannot be owned without obtaining federal permits. Even vicious dogs are subject to local and state rules.

Why, then, can't the General Assembly come up with a reasonable law on exotic animals?



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