Owner of seized exotic animals argues Ohio law exemption


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The owner of five tigers and other exotic animals seized from a northeast Ohio farm is asking a judge to find her exempt from the state law that tightened restrictions on keeping dangerous wild animals.

Owner Cyndi Huntsman argues that Stump Hill Farm near Massillon was exempt from those permit requirements under the law’s wording when it took effect in January 2014 because the site was a wildlife rehabilitation facility that already had a different permit for educational purposes. The law was later updated with more specificity about such an exemption, but her attorney argues the state violated her constitutional rights and still didn’t have jurisdiction to remove the animals to a holding facility in Reynoldsburg last month.

In a complaint filed this month seeking the declaration of Huntsman’s exemption, her attorney also asks a Stark County court to order the animals returned.

“Our position is, as of Jan. 1, 2014, she was exempt and so none of this applies to her,” said Huntsman’s attorney, John Juergensen.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which has oversight of such creatures, won’t comment on the pending lawsuit but maintains that Huntsman doesn’t have a permit to keep the exotic animals and hasn’t proved she’s exempt from the law, department spokeswoman Erica Hawkins said by email Monday.

Huntsman also has an administrative appeal pending with the state over an earlier quarantine order and plans another over the order that led to the seizure. That process, and the legal case, could take months.

Besides the tigers, the state took two pumas, two baboons and a chimpanzee from Stump Hill, which officials considered to be the last large facility not complying with stricter rules enacted after a suicidal man released lions, tigers and other creatures from a Zanesville-area farm in 2011. One of Huntsman’s seized tigers also gave birth to four cubs at the holding facility, though two of them died.

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