Tending to his animal refuge in Stony Ridge keeps Ken Hetrick busy as he and other owners of wild animals await a court decision that will impact their menageries.
Hetrick, the owner of Tiger Ridge Exotics, has said the costs of complying with a new state law requiring permits for owning certain animals and reptiles are too high for him to keep his refuge open.
“It’s out of reach for me,” he said. “They want insurance of $1 million. You can get insurance but not at a reasonable cost for what I do. It would cost thousands of dollars just to install the type of fencing required by the law.”
The Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act bans unpermitted ownership of 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 November 2012 and obtain permits by Jan. 1 of this 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 limit of 15.
Tiger Ridge Exotics is home to 7 tigers, three lions, one liger, one grizzly bear, one wolf, one bobcat, and a leopard, Many of the animals, Hetrick says, have been rescued from owners who no longer wanted them.
Hetrick has been operating the refuge for more than 30 years as non-commercial venture, relying on donations to help meet costs.
Several members of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners last May filed an appeal with the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, hoping to reverse a court decision that upheld the state law.
A hearing was held Nov. 22 and the litigants await a decision that will probably be further appealed regardless of whether the state or owners win, said Polly Britton, legislative agent for the OAAO, who attended the hearing.
She described the law as “legislative overkill.”
She said the association would like to see exemptions for owners who are already licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture – a sentiment echoed by Hetrick.
“Let all the people who have permits and are in good standing with the USDA be exempt,” he said. “We already are in compliance with their regulations. They come in and look at the paperwork, freezer, food, living conditions, everything.”
By Jan. 8, the state agriculture department had received 65 permit applications, said Erica Hawkins, a spokesperson for the department.
The department will be flexible in the permit process, she said.
“The department intends to work with owners that genuinely want to be in compliance with the law to help get them in compliance,” Hawkins said. “This may include time extensions – as were given to owners to complete the micro-chipping requirements last fall.”
The state opened an animal holding facility last March in Reynoldsburg. Since then, there have been about 25 animals placed in the facility. Hawkins said permanent homes have been found for every animal.