It’s been nearly six months since the streets of Zanesville, Ohio, ran red with the blood of dozens of so-called “exotic animals,” after Terry Thompson released them from his state-sanctioned concentration camp and into policemen’s gun sights. In the hours and days that followed the October 18, 2011, Zanesville Massacre, we heard a great deal about the need for lawmakers to rethink the state’s permissiveness with regard to exotic-animal “ownership.” Today, efforts to regulate the “ownership” of non-domesticated animals are being challenged by Ohio residents who believe such controls would infringe on their freedoms.
A few days after the Zanesville Massacre, Ohio Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order asking a study committee to “provide recommendations that set forth proposed legislation pertaining to the importation, regulation and licensure of dangerous wild animals no later than November 30, 2011.” (Kasich, of course, had previously declined to reauthorize an executive order issued by his predecessor, Gov. Ted Strickland, that at very least would have prohibited Mr. Thompson — who’d been convicted in 2005 of animal cruelty — from owning “dangerous wild animals.”)
On November 30, 2011, the above-mentioned study committee recommended a ban on the “ownership or possession of restricted species … unless the owner meets the listed and limited exceptions outlined for zoos, research facilities, circuses, or are licensed sanctuaries or propagators who can demonstrate that the animals will be cared for and contained in facilities that will ensure the safety of the public and promote the health and welfare of the animals.”
In my February 15 commentary “Owning Exotic Animals Remains Legal in Ohio,” I wrote, in part: “The way I read that language, legislation recommended by the study group would not protect animals in Ohio from being forced into captivity, exploited, tortured, or killed by those who would somehow be required to ‘promote the health and welfare of the animals.’”
Others found the study group’s recommendation too restrictive.
Ohio state Sen. Troy Balderson wrote in a December 8, 2011, statement: “I respectfully disagree with their recommendation to fully ban exotic animal ownership throughout Ohio. In drafting the new regulations, we have three goals to keep in mind. First and foremost, it is essential that we ensure the public’s safety from possible danger. Second, we also need to preserve the ability of small businessmen and women to maintain operation in our state. Finally, we need to ensure that the dangerous and wild animals in Ohio are properly cared for and kept from harm.”
Those who believe the recommended ban is too restrictive have not convinced me that “the health and welfare of the animals” is their priority.
Legislation introduced by Sen. Balderson would, as described in a March 28 report in The Columbus Dispatch, “allow private owners to keep their animals (but not acquire new ones) after the Jan. 1, 2014, deadline. They would have to meet strict regulations, including registering their animals with the state and paying fees, obtaining liability-insurance coverage of $250,000 to $1 million, and implanting microchips in their animals to identify them in case of escape.”
“Snake owners,” The Columbus Dispatch report points out, “would not have to give up their animals, nor would they have to stop buying, selling or breeding them. But they would have to abide by tougher regulations, including paying registration fees, obtaining insurance and erecting signage around their property.”
And this from The Columbus Dispatch: “‘No private owner will be able to keep their animals as this bill is written,’ Evelyn Shaw of Pataskala told the Senate Agriculture, Environment and Natural Resources Committee. ‘This bill would either cause the death of my animals or force me to go from a law-abiding citizen to a criminal.’ Shaw said some owners would have to euthanize their creatures, creating ‘a Nazi death camp of rare exotic animals.’”
Kelly Gifford, reporting for The Plain Dealer on April 3, indicated that Ms. Shaw is the “owner of five primates and a cougar.”
Nancy Nighswander also “owns five monkeys and a cougar,” according to a March 14 report in The Columbus Dispatch, which quotes Ms. Nighswander as saying, “They are not taking my animals … I will go underground, and there are plenty of people that will go with me.”
And then there’s this lede from an April 2 report in The Marion Star: “Mike Stapleton said Senate Bill 310 is out to make a criminal of him and other owners of ‘exotic’ animals, and that’s not fair. Stapleton operates Paws & Claws Animal Sanctuary in southern Marion County, where he keeps six large tigers and five black bears. … Stapleton said the need for sanctuaries like his is a legacy of Ohio’s unregulated exotic animal trade, where private individuals have for years bought captive-bred lion, tiger and bear cubs as pets at auctions around the state.”
Mr. Stapleton is quoted in The Marion Star report as saying, “I acquired these animals legally, and they are my property. … That’s a right and a liberty of mine.”
The “Nazi death camp of rare exotic animals” Ms. Shaw fears will result from the passage of SB 310 is exactly what the late Terry Thompson — who took his pathetic life on October 18, 2011, after ensuring the brutal deaths of dozens of animals — was permitted by Ohio law to operate.
According to Pet-Abuse.com, Mr. Thompson was arrested in April 2005 “for cruelty and torture of cattle and bison he had on his property. … A jury convicted Terry Thompson of mistreating the cattle and bison he owned.”
Citing a report from the Newspaper Network of Central Ohio, Pet-Abuse.com indicates that “on December 22, 2005, a judge sentenced (Thompson) to six months of house arrest and fined him $2,870 for his conviction on abuse of animals. Muskingum County Judge Jay Vinsel … allowed Thompson to avoid jail time so he could care for the approximately 100 animals he keeps at his home.”
That claim was proven even more absurd on October 18, 2011.
What twisted people like Mr. Thompson love is the sense of power they feel with predators and other non-domesticated animals under their control. Had Comandante Thompson really loved “his” animals, he’d have admired and appreciated them from afar.
Those who really care about “the health and welfare of the animals” described throughout this commentary believe that wild animals deserve to be left alone to live their lives in their natural habitats.
Those who really care about “the health and welfare of (these) animals” do not buy “captive-bred lion, tiger and bear cubs as pets at auctions.”
Those who really care about “the health and welfare of (these) animals” have no interest in “owning” them or considering them “property.”