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Attorney:Rules on exotic animals delayed

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Posted by: EricWI at Tue Nov 6 10:27:20 2012  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by EricWI ]  

The Ohio Department of Agriculture has agreed to not immediately enforce new rules on exotic animal owners, according to an attorney leading a lawsuit against the regulation.

Delaware attorney Robert Owens, who is representing four animal owners in a lawsuit against the state, said an agreement was reached Monday in which the state will not enforce the provisions of the new law on owners of exotic animals until a hearing in mid-December. The department would neither confirm nor deny the deal and no entry to that effect has been posted on the website for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

The arrangement comes on the last day for animal owners who wanted to retain their animals to notify the state of what species they had and where the animals were located. There was a rush of registrations as the deadline approached. A total of 130 private owners, not including zoos, submitted 483 animals as of 3 p.m. Monday.

In 2014, possession of all restricted animals will be outlawed without a permit from the state. Until then, restricted animals existing in Ohio are allowed to remain provided they are fully registered.

The department on Monday said it would accept registrations received through the end of the day, but anyone who has not completed the form by midnight would lose their right to retain that animal going forward. It is unknown whether the lawsuit eventually could expand the registration deadline, which Owens said was a possibility should his side win in court.

The number of people registering animals has spiked in the past few days. As of Oct. 31, only 36 individuals representing 101 animals had registered. A complete updated list of animals and their whereabouts was not available Monday, according to the agriculture department.

Agriculture director David Daniels, who along with the department is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, sounded frustrated at times when talking about efforts to reach animal owners and convince them to register during the inaugural meeting of the Ohio Dangerous and Restricted Animals Advisory Board this past week. Daniels said the state’s best guess was that “there are over (500) or 600 private people who own these animals.”

Some of those owners could have voluntarily divested themselves of their animals. Paul Stull, a Dayton veterinarian and advisory board member, said he was aware of at least 50 big cats that had been moved out of the state.

Animal owners had 60 days, beginning from Senate Bill 310’s effective date, Sept. 5, to let the state know what animals they were in possession of and to implant a microchip in each restricted animal. That’s only one of three fundamental problems with the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, according to Owens, who filed the lawsuit Friday.

He said the act forces owners of restricted species to forfeit their property (the animals), or become paying members of organizations they are opposed to, such as the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Zoological Association of America, and comply with a regulatory process that ends up costing owners more than the animals are worth.

This isn’t about extending the deadline or some other kind of tweak to the law, Owens said.

“The ultimate issue before the court is whether the state will have the ability to enforce any provision of the what is commonly know as the exotic animal ban,” he said.

Owens is portraying exotic animal owners as a persecuted group with a small number of members who are subject to a law passed without consideration of their rights.

“It was easy for one sort of triggering event like the Zanesville incident to have, all of a sudden, heavy-handed action taking place because they are a small group,” he said.

He’s referencing the October 2011 incident in Zanesville, where 48 animals were killed by law enforcement officials after they were released by their suicidal owner.

The agriculture department is declining to comment on litigation other than to say it is committed to “ending casual ownership of dangerous, wild animals.”

Opponents of the law have brought up these type of complaint before, said Karen Minton, Ohio state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

The microchipping component of the law, which the civil suit says is dangerous, is one example of a mischaracterization of the facts, she said.

“Microchipping has long been a common, and sometimes required practice, for dogs and cats,” she said, noting the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association and the AZA pushed for this particular provision in Senate Bill 310. “It is not dangerous. The chip is inserted via an injection, just like a vaccination.”

Minton said the lawsuit might be further proof that some private facilities are delaying registration because they cannot meet the minimum safety standards contained in the bill.


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