COLUMBUS — The state’s $2.9 million exotic-animal containment facility in Reynoldsburg hasn’t been used much in the four months since it opened, with five alligators and two black bears briefly calling it home.
But business is expected to pick up in six months when Ohio’s exotic-animals law takes full effect on Jan. 1.
Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels said the state is ready.
“We’ve learned a lot. We’ve had to go out and make pickups [of animals],” he said. “Every time that we go through one of these, we learn something new.
“A lot of times the animals are not in the best of health. They’ve had a poor diet, and some are malnourished.”
The seven animals were kept briefly at the Dangerous Wild Animal Temporary Holding Facility before they were moved to out-of-state sanctuaries. Most were relinquished by owners who said they could no longer keep them, but one alligator was seized during a drug raid in Guernsey County.
State records obtained by the Dispatch show what it takes to feed the animals. Receipts from Walmart and Kroger show facility employees purchased chicken breasts, corn, peaches, bananas, walnuts, mangoes, lettuce, blueberries, watermelon, and doughnuts.
Mr. Daniels said some animals had terrible diets.
One owner sent along a note saying he fed his alligator dog food, doughnuts, pizza, Mountain Dew, and chocolate milk. State animal workers transitioned the animal to a more-nutritious diet but had to throw in doughnuts at first to get the animal to eat.
Taxpayers also paid for a kiddie pool for the alligators and a $225, 30.5-pound bouncy ball for the bears.
The exotic-animals law, enacted last year, bans private owners from acquiring, selling, and breeding restricted species in Ohio as of Jan. 1.
On the restricted list: lions, tigers, bears, elephants, certain monkeys, rhinos, alligators, crocodiles, anacondas and pythons longer than 12 feet, certain vipers, and all venomous snakes.
Thus far, private owners have registered 361 animals, mostly primates, tigers, bears, and alligators.
Starting Oct. 1, and before Jan. 1, owners must obtain and pay for a permit to keep their animals. “Wildlife shelter” permits cost $250 for one to three animals and up to $1,000 for 11 to 15 animals. Owners also must obtain liability insurance or a surety bond of $200,000 to $1 million.
The law was passed after Terry Thompson, from near Zanesville, released his menagerie of exotic animals before committing suicide on Oct. 18, 2011. Forty-eight animals, including lions, tigers, and bears, were killed by authorities to protect the public.
The law still could be put on hold as a result of a lawsuit pending in the 6th U.S. District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
The suit filed by seven animal owners, including Terry Wilkins, owner of Captive Born Reptiles in Columbus, argues that the law infringes on their constitutional rights and would result in an unfair taking of their property, the animals.
U.S. District Judge George Smith sided with the state in upholding the law last year.
Delaware lawyer Robert Owens, representing the owners, said the permit process is “a sham” and the requirements forced on owners are “more stringent and astronomically more expensive” than standards required by national associations for small zoos and menageries.
“The hangman’s noose is there for these owners,” he said. “No member of the public has ever been hurt by these animals. Why are we destroying businesses and seizing personal property?
Polly Britton of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners said her members — some of whom are involved in the lawsuit — “feel like they are in real danger of having their animals taken from them.”
Tim Harrison, a retired firefighter and paramedic from the Dayton area who runs the animal-rescue group Outreach for Animals, has been helping to find and relocate the animals to new homes outside Ohio.
“A lot of the good people who have these animals have stepped forward,” he said. “But there are some people who are thumbing their nose at the law, saying, ‘Come and get me.’”