Last Friday morning, a group of four exotic animal owners in Ohio filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the recently enacted Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act.
The new law went into effect on September 5 and immediately banned the sale of big cats and other exotic or dangerous animals, and will ban possession of lions, tigers, bears, elephants, wolves, alligators, crocodiles and certain kinds of monkeys as pets starting in 2014. Current owners had until November 5 to register their animals and show they had been microchipped so they could be identified if they escaped or got lost. The first offense for a roaming animal will result in a misdemeanor, a second offense will be a felony.
Owners are claiming the new law violates their First Amendment and property rights and are arguing that they shouldn’t have to join private associations, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, or give up their animals without compensation. They also believe they shouldn’t have to comply with costly regulations and that the microchipping provision is dangerous for their animals and, in some cases, would cost more than the animals themselves are worth.
On Monday, the last day for people to register their animals with the state, the Ohio Department of Agriculture agreed not to immediately enforce new rules on owners until there is a hearing in December. According to the Coshocton Tribune, 130 people registered 483 animals that afternoon, but state officials estimate there more than 500 or 600 individuals with exotic animals in their possession.
With the new agreement, owners who haven’t registered their animals by the deadline may not face prosecution, which would have otherwise resulted charges of a first-degree misdemeanor for a first offense and a fifth-degree felony for any subsequent offenses.
Some people argue that it was easy to pass the law after the escape and death of 48 animals in Zanesville, Ohio after Terry Thompson opened the doors to their cages on his property before fatally shooting himself, but people have been fighting to strengthen the state’s exotic and dangerous animal regulations before that happened.
Even with that massacre, the state couldn’t prevent the return of five animals, a spotted leopard, a black leopard, two Celebes Macaque monkeys and a brown bear, to Thompson’s wife. New records show she has added two 11-week-old leopards to her collection.
Karen Minton, Ohio state director for the HSUS believes the lawsuit is proof that people are just trying to delay registration because they can’t meet the minimum requirements of the new law, which include fees, background checks, liability insurance and the ability to properly care for the animals in question. Anyone who can’t meet the requirements may have their animals seized.
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