Ken Hetrick sees few options for his wild animal refuge in Stony Ridge.
The owner of Tiger Ridge Exotics – home to a collection of six tigers, three lions, a leopard, a grizzly bear, a timber wolf and a liger; many of them elderly – Hetrick is convinced he can’t afford the costs associated with a new state permit and regulation program.
One quote for liability insurance he received is $376 a month, he said, and required changes to the fencing could cost thousands of dollars.
“They’re telling owners to do all these things but some of it is not rational,” he said of the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, which bans unpermitted ownership of certain animals and reptiles by Jan. 1, 2014. The restricted list covers lions, tigers and other “large cats,” bears, elephants, certain monkeys, rhinos, alligators, crocodiles, anacondas and pythons longer than 12 feet, certain vipers and venomous snakes.
Affected owners were required to register their animals with the Ohio Department of Agriculture by Nov. 2 of last year.
“Wildlife shelter” permits cost $250 for one to three animals and up to $1,000 for 11 to 15 animals. There is a $125 fee for each animal over the 15 limit. Owners must also obtain liability insurance or a surety bond of $200,000 to $1 million, depending on the number of animals.
The application period for permits began Oct. 1. As of last week, no owners have filed for permits, said Erica Hawkins, a department spokesperson.
Department personnel have been visiting registered owners to distribute permit information and inspect enclosures, she said.
As the permit deadline looms – and a visit bv the department of agriculture draws nearer - Hetrick is trying to find some reprieve from legislators, hoping the law can be amended so his refuge can be exempted.
He’s registered the animals but sees the law as an over-reaction to a tragic incident in Zanesville, O. in October 2011, when an owner released his collection of wild animals shortly before committing suicide. Authorities killed nearly 50 of the animals, including bears, tigers and lions, to protect area residents.
The law is being challenged by some owners as well as the Ohio Association of Animal Owners. Late last year the U.S. District Court ruled in favor of the state and the OAAO filed an appeal in May the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
Hetrick said he’s had no problems following regulations of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has inspected the refuge he’s operated as a non-commercial venture funded by himself and donations for more than 30 years.
“If they told me to do something I do it,” he said of the federal department. “But it’s in a range of something you can do. The rules the state passed; there is no way for me to meet that.”
He’s convinced one state regulation, having animals micro-chipped unless otherwise exempted, has resulted in the death of a grizzly bear that succumbed to the tranquilizing drug used to insert the chip.
All of the animals at the refuge have been rescued from owners who no longer wanted them, Hetrick said.
The Humane Society of the United States intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the state.
Karen Minton, Ohio director of the Humane Society, called the regulations “commonsense restrictions on the keeping of dangerous wild animals…”
Information about the law is available on the department of agriculture website: http://www.agri.ohio.gov/TopNews/DangerousWildAnimalAct/.