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Ohio tightens enforcement of exotic animal laws

This bear was one six animals captured by authorities Wednesday day after its owner Terry ThompsOhio  released dozens wild

This bear was one of six animals captured by authorities Wednesday, a day after its owner, Terry Thompson, Ohio, released dozens of wild animals and then killed himself near Zanesville, Ohio. Sheriff's deputies shot and killed 48 of the animals. | Col

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Updated: October 22, 2011 4:38PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s governor promised Friday to step up enforcement of the state’s existing animal laws and pursue new ones to limit private ownership of dangerous animals.

If an animal is seen being treated inhumanely, Ohio officials already have the ability to confiscate it and arrest the owner, Gov. John Kasich said in a Friday news conference. It doesn’t happen often with large, dangerous animals because state officials don’t know what to do with the animal once they have it.

Kasich signed an executive order Friday and said the state has agreed to work with zoos to house any confiscated animals found in substandard conditions. He also has requested the Ohio Department of Natural Resources set up a hot line for citizens to report animal abuse.

“We don’t know where they all are,” Kasich said of the exotic animal owners.

A Dayton, Ohio-based group that wants to end private ownership of wild animals said Thursday that it knows about at least 20 farms comparable to Terry Thompson’s in Zanesville, Ohio.

On Tuesday, Muskingum County sheriff’s deputies say they were forced to kill 48 of 56 exotic animals — including 18 Bengal tigers — that escaped from Thompson’s 73-acre farm when he opened the cages then killed himself. A bear, three leopards and two monkeys survived and are in Columbus Zoo custody. One monkey was eaten and another monkey unaccounted for is believed to have been eaten.

“I think the humane treatment is a good thing and a good start to stronger restrictions and guidelines for exotic animals,” said Muskingum Sheriff Matthew Lutz.

“We need to get things in order to protect our communities so something like this never happens in another city, county or village.”

If a resident wants to keep a species native to Ohio, such as bears, that person must register with the Department of Natural Resources, interim director Scott Zody said. Agency officials will review current permits and begin inspecting premises where registered animals are kept.

However, the state has no law requiring owners to register non-native species, such as tigers. The department already had formed a task force looking into this issue. Kasich wants a report by Nov. 30.

Zody said he wants to avoid unintended consequences in any changes to the law.

Kasich also ordered the Ohio Department of Health to find ways to use its authority to protect the public against dangerous animals.

The governor also said he would like to see laws limiting auctions of dangerous animals.

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