Q&A: A look at Ohio’s crackdown on exotic animals
COLUMBUS — Ohio Gov. John Kasich has put in place temporary measures to crack down on private ownership of dangerous wild animals while tougher laws are written this fall.
Some animal owner groups welcomed the order, though others have blasted it as not going far enough. Critics, including the Humane Society of the United States, say they would have preferred a ban on the purchase and sale of exotic animals. That’s what Kasich’s Democratic predecessor, former Gov. Ted Strickland, ordered before leaving office in January.
Sparring over Kasich’s approach comes after dozens of lions, bears and tigers were shot to death by police in Zanesville two weeks ago after their owner freed them and then killed himself.
A look at some of the questions and answers surrounding the first-term Republican’s executive order:
Q: Does the Kasich’s order ban the ownership of exotic animals, such as tigers and lions?
A: No. Under his executive order issued Oct. 21, the state will work with health departments and humane societies to better enforce existing laws. Kasich has directed the state’s Department of Agriculture to try to temporarily halt auction sales of wild animals and to shut down unlicensed auctions. He’s also ordered a review of the existing state permits issued to people who own wild animals. By contrast, Strickland’s order called for a ban on the future ownership, breeding, sale, trade or barter of wild animals. Under his plan, Ohioans who already owned exotic pets would have had to register them with the state, and they would have been barred from breeding or selling their boas, chimpanzees, tigers and other wild animals.
Q: How long does an executive order last?
A: That depends on when the governor specifies. Strickland’s order was effective for 90 days and it included emergency rules. Kasich’s order is set to run out on his last day in office, though he can end it before then. An order is typically used to put policies in place immediately.
Q: What happened to Strickland’s order?
A: It expired in April along with its emergency rules. The former governor issued the order in January, just days before leaving office. Kasich did not renew the order. His administration’s lawyers say the state’s Division of Wildlife did not have the legal authority to enforce the directive. The division handles native wildlife, such as deer, certain bears and raccoons — not non-native animals, such as lions and tigers. A spokeswoman for the agency says no steps were taken to fulfill Strickland’s directive because counsel advised them legislation was needed before such action could be carried out.
Q: What did the Kasich administration do after his predecessor’s order expired?
A: The Kasich administration announced in April that a working group of stakeholders would convene to recommend legislation aimed at regulating dangerous wild animals. The group first met in June, and has been meeting monthly. Kasich’s executive order directs the members to provide their framework for a new law no later than Nov. 30. Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the working group has not been directed to put Strickland’s ideas into law. But, Nichols said, “It’s a good guide to some of the things we’re thinking about.”
Q: Are the working group’s meetings open to the public or media?
A: No. Unlike legislative committees or appointed commissions, the working group is not a public body. It does not have policy-making authority. It’s a group of 10 stakeholder organizations that include the Ohio Association of Animal Owners, the Ohio Farm Bureau, the Zoo Association of America and the state’s natural resources department among others.
Q: Would either executive order have prevented Ohio animal owner Terry Thompson from keeping and later freeing 56 rare and dangerous wild animals?
A: It’s unclear. Strickland’s order could have led to Thompson’s animals being taken away, says Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO, Humane Society of the United States. That’s because Thompson had a previous animal cruelty conviction from 2005, and he would have been in violation of Strickland’s rules had they still been in place on May 1. In comparison, Kasich’s order draws attention to a 1953 Ohio law that gives humane societies the authority to enforce the state’s animal welfare laws, including the ability to arrest people. Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said it’s possible that local authorities could have used that law to step in during the 2005 animal cruelty case.