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Published: Monday, 9/24/2012

State spreads word on exotic-animals law

ASSOCIATED PRESS

COLUMBUS — Ohio of­fi­cials are bol­ster­ing their ef­forts to con­nect with an­i­mal own­ers who now have to reg­is­ter their dan­ger­ous wild crea­tures with the state.

Only one per­son has reg­is­tered since the law took ef­fect on Sept. 5, ac­cord­ing to the Ohio Depart­ment of Ag­ri­cul­ture. 

Three oth­ers tried but turned in in­com­plete forms. Their an­i­mals also lack the re­quired im­planted mi­cro­chips for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion. 

The state doesn’t know ex­actly how many peo­ple pos­sess such crea­tures, and that’s part of its chal­lenge. With­out a da­ta­base or any re­quired li­censes, “there’s just no way of hav­ing some kind of di­rect mail­ing list of who owns these kinds of an­i­mals,” said Erica Pitch­ford, a spokes­man for the ag­ri­cul­ture de­part­ment.

Ohio’s re­stric­tions on ex­otic pets had been among the na­tion’s weak­est. 

Ef­forts to reg­u­late dan­ger­ous wild­life took on new ur­gency last fall, when a sui­cidal owner re­leased doz­ens of ex­otic an­i­mals, in­clud­ing bears, li­ons, and ti­gers.

“One of the big­gest shocks that came out of last year was this idea that we don’t re­ally know how many kinds of these an­i­mals are in our state,” Ms. Pitch­ford said. “We don’t know where they are. People don’t know that they could be right down their street.”

The law now al­lows the state to gather that in­for­ma­tion and gives lo­cal law en­force­ment ac­cess to the da­ta­base.

Own­ers must reg­is­ter the an­i­mals with the state’s ag­ri­cul­ture de­part­ment by Nov. 5. They have to say where the crea­tures are, how many they have, what the an­i­mals look like, and who their vet­er­i­nar­ian is, among other in­for­ma­tion.

State of­fi­cials plan to en­list vet­er­i­nar­i­ans and an an­i­mal own­ers’ group to spread the word about reg­is­ter­ing, Ms. Pitch­ford said. And the ag­ri­cul­ture de­part­ment has one em­ployee ded­i­cated to han­dling calls from own­ers who have ques­tions about the new law and how to reg­is­ter.

“We’re try­ing to be as broad and out­reach­ing as pos­si­ble,” she said.

Work­ing with the Ohio As­so­ci­a­tion of An­i­mal Own­ers might not be easy.

The group had tried to get the new law scrapped as it was be­ing de­bated by law­mak­ers, ar­gu­ing it was un­fair to own­ers.

The as­so­ci­a­tion boasts more than 8,000 mem­bers, whose an­i­mals range from do­mes­tic cats to Ben­gal ti­gers.

Polly Brit­ton, a lob­by­ist for the as­so­ci­a­tion, said it has made its mem­bers aware of the No­vem­ber dead­line. But the group still is con­sid­er­ing a le­gal chal­lenge to the law, she said in an email on Fri­day.

The law bans new pur­chases of dan­ger­ous ex­otic an­i­mals, such as chee­tahs and croc­o­diles.

Cur­rent own­ers can keep their crea­tures by ob­tain­ing a new state-is­sued per­mit by 2014. But they would have to pass a back­ground check, pay per­mit fees, ob­tain li­a­bil­ity in­sur­ance, and show in­spec­tors that they can prop­erly con­tain the an­i­mal and ad­here to other stan­dards.

Ohio of­fi­cials could seize the an­i­mals if own­ers don’t meet the state’s re­quire­ments or are found hous­ing an an­i­mal with­out a per­mit.

If own­ers don’t reg­is­ter their an­i­mals dur­ing the next two months, it’s likely the state could re­ject their per­mit ap­pli­ca­tion to keep the crea­tures. Fail­ing to reg­is­ter the an­i­mals is a mis­de­meanor, and civil pen­al­ties also could be lev­ied.



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