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Published: Thursday, 11/24/2011

Exotic-animal group opposes proposal to ban ownership

ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cindy Huntsman displays Banana, an albino Burmese python, at her Stump Hill Farm in the Massillon area of northeast Ohio. Ownership of such snakes could be outlawed for many under a new proposal. Cindy Huntsman displays Banana, an albino Burmese python, at her Stump Hill Farm in the Massillon area of northeast Ohio. Ownership of such snakes could be outlawed for many under a new proposal.
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COLUMBUS -- An animal owners group is objecting to a recommendation that the state ban ownership of venomous snakes, monkeys, tigers and other dangerous animals by 2014, arguing that those who are federally licensed to have the creatures shouldn't fall under the prohibition.

A study committee and state agencies this week proposed a framework for new regulations in Ohio, which has some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets.

Efforts to strengthen the state's law took on new urgency last month when police killed 48 wild animals -- including endangered Bengal tigers -- after their owner freed them from his Zanesville area farm and committed suicide.

The Ohio Association of Animal Owners was on the study panel but says the proposal goes too far.

Polly Britton, a lobbyist for the organization, said the recommendations are so stringent that federally licensed breeders, exhibitors, and others couldn't keep their animals and could be put out of business.

That's a concern shared by Amanda Dalton at Heaven's Corner Zoo and Animal Sanctuary in southwest Ohio.

Ms. Dalton, a volunteer and the development director at the West Alexandria facility, said she thinks officials need to recognize a difference between keepers who have dangerous animals in basements or backyards and those at federally licensed facilities that spend thousands of dollars on proper animal care and containment.

"Our facility is tip-top, and we should not be penalized just as a knee-jerk reaction to something that one person did," she said.

The study panel's recommendations are only suggestions to state lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich, a first-term Republican who convened the working group in April. The ideas would have to be drafted into legislation, heard before committees, and passed by the legislature before becoming law.

State Sen. Troy Balderson, a Zanesville native, said he intends to pursue legislation on exotic animals, though he told Ohio Public Radio in an interview that the ban could keep some of the best private owners from having wildlife.

"I'm not a fan of banning them completely," said Mr. Balderson, a Republican. "I think we have some great owners out there of exotic animals that have business out of these, and I think they need to be taken into consideration."

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols wouldn't say why federal-license holders weren't exempted.

"I'm sure those conversations will be thoroughly addressed through the legislative process," Mr. Nichols said. "The framework is designed to best protect public safety and the animals."

The framework for legislation suggests the ban start on Jan. 1, 2014. Owners would have to meet new temporary safety standards before then and register their animals with the state within 60 days of the law's effective date.

The recommendations make limited exemptions for zoos, circuses, and research facilities.

Animal sanctuaries with exotic animals would have to be licensed and regulated by the state. And after the 2014 ban, those with restricted wildlife who don't have proper licenses or aren't exempted would have the animals taken away by state or local officials.



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