Tiger Ridge Exotics in Stony Ridge has been open to the public for over 30 years.
Owner Kenny Hetrick only asks for donations to help feed and care for over 30 tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, wolves, and bears.
Due to recently upgraded regulations by the United States Department of Agriculture, which regulates exotic animal farms, Tiger Ridge is in need of 1,700 feet of fencing, fence hardware and attachments, concrete, poles, wood, nails, screws, paint and other materials to comply.
The Press obtained copies of the USDA report, dated September 29. The deadline for Hetrick to upgrade is November 1.
“That’s the almost impossible part. I’ve worked on this daylight to dark since they were here. There’s a lot to do,” Hetrick said.
“They came out here and said my regular fence, which is 10 foot high, has to be 12 feet with a three foot overlap. I still haven’t figured out how I’m going to do that (overlap),” Hetrick continued. “My four-foot perimeter fence, that’s my outside perimeter fence, has to be eight feet. All my poles have to be cemented in, and I need eight foot fence bad and I can’t find any anywhere other than new.”
Estimates to purchase everything new start at $40,000, Hetrick said. He already has received some fencing and supplies, some used, through various sources. He would even accept donations of labor.
One tiger, now grown, is the former mascot for the Massillon
“They don’t want the bear drinking out of this pool. They want a separate water container, and it’s the same with all the animals — they have to have a separate water containers from the water that they get in. All the perimeter fencing has to be three feet from the main fence, and that isn’t any problem there,” Hetrick continued.
Cindy Huntman of Stump Hill Farm, Massillon, knows Hetrick and understands what he is going through.
“We take in a lot of the animals that have been other people’s pets, or they have been in situations where the authorities have taken them or seized them, or that type of thing, and then they come to live here,” Huntman said. “We do have educational programs, also. We do a little bit of what Kenny does.”
Huntman says a recent USDA crackdown is affecting exotic animal owners everywhere. She’s dealt with crackdowns like this before.
“We’ve had to do that in the past,” Huntman said. “If you are USDA licensed, then you have to follow the USDA regulations. In order to exhibit, breed, or sell you must have a USDA license. So that kind of gets you by the short hairs. You can’t breed them or sell them unless you have a USDA license, but then you have to meet all the criteria.
“Sometimes they don’t tell you how you are going to pay for all of that. It’s kind of like a situation where you are damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t,” Huntman continued.
Huntman said because Hetrick has begun renovations, she doesn’t believe Tiger Ridge will get shut down November 1 if he doesn’t have the work finished.
“Kenny is a good guy. The USDA will work with him very well. They will give him time if he needs the time. If they see that he’s making an effort, they will work with him in order to do that,” Huntman said.
She said special interest groups are seeking to ban private ownership of exotic animals. That is one reason the USDA is applying pressure.
“The perimeter fence and the extension of Kenny’s fences — that policy has been in effect for quite a few years,” Huntman said. “But because Kenny has been in business so long and there hasn’t been any incidences, and Kenny does live there on the premises, there is a little leeway.
“So now that the heat is on, we’re all under a lot of scrutiny. So, the USDA has to dot it’s I’s, cross it’s T’s, and make sure everybody is playing on the same field. They are just kind of hitting Kenny at a bad time. It’s going into winter and it’s time to make all those kinds of revisions. It’s a little hard for anybody, and we’ve all been through it. I had to go through it a few years ago.
“Anybody who enjoys the exotic animals will do anything that is necessary in order to maintain the animals in a quality setting. Kenny and his wife (Roberta) have gone above and beyond trying to make a good life for those animals. (Animal rights groups) will tell you that the animals all should be in the wild. Well, if this was a perfect world animals all could be in the wild, but unfortunately it’s not a perfect world and there is no wild.”
The farm, located on a five-acre property at 5359 Fremont Pike, has educated thousands of children and adults in the conservation of these animals.
Kenny’s daughter, Corrina Hetrick, says Tiger Ridge has entertained schools, boy scouts, girl scouts, day cares, church groups, handicapped children, nursing home residents, and autistic children.
Currently, Tiger Ridge has seven tigers, three bears, four lions, a mountain lion, a bobcat, a pair of wolves, a five-month old Bengal tiger, and a black leopard.