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Published: Tuesday, 5/1/2012

Ohio to return 5 exotic animals

Owner's widow to take custody


REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio -- State officials will return five surviving exotic animals to a woman whose husband released dozens of wild creatures before committing suicide.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced the decision Monday at an agency hearing in which the state was to defend its authority to quarantine the animals -- two leopards, two primates, and a bear -- on suspicion of infectious diseases.

A spokesman for the agency said the state had exhausted its authority in the case and that the state's agriculture director would lift the quarantine order that was placed on the animals in October.

Medical results showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested.

That means the animals can be returned to Marian Thompson of Zanesville, although it's unclear when.

Logistics for retrieving the animals will have to be worked out between Ms. Thompson and the Columbus zoo, which has been holding the animals, agriculture spokesman Erica Pitchford said.

Once the animals are returned to Ms. Thompson, nothing in Ohio law allows state officials to check on their welfare or require improvements to conditions in which they are kept, Ms. Pitchford said.

The local humane society could intervene with help from the county prosecutor if there were an investigation into animal cruelty, she said.

Barry McElfresh, president of the county's humane society, said he's been to Ms. Thompson's property three times to investigate complaints since October and found no violations.

"I've never had a problem with Marian," Mr. McElfresh said. "I truly believe after all these goings on that she will be making a good effort."

He said the county's humane officer is prepared to make inspections and alert authorities if she's not properly caring for the animals.

Terry Thompson's suicide, the animals' release, and their killings led lawmakers to re-examine the state's restrictions on exotic pets.

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