Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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State seizes a dozen exotic animals from Ohio nature preserve

Stony Ridge, Ohio (AP) — Ohio authorities began seizing a dozen exotic animals – including several tigers and a lion – in late January at an animal sanctuary where inspectors earlier found insufficient fencing and other problems, the state’s agriculture department said.

State officials moved to take the animals after denying the owner a permit to keep them earlier this month.

However, six tigers and five other exotic animals seized by the state from the sanctuary will remain in Ohio's custody until a state appeals court weighs in on the case, a county judge decided.

The judge who initially ordered that the 11 animals be returned to their owner agreed with lawyers for the state that jurisdiction in the case now lies with an appeals court. 

The owner of the facility just outside Toledo has been fighting to keep the animals since October, when the state said that he needed to voluntarily surrender his animals because he had failed to get the necessary permits to keep them.

Kenny Hetrick hoped to keep the animals after volunteers helped him improve his facility. Among the animals on the site are a black leopard, a lion, a bear, a bobcat, and a handful of tigers. Some of the tigers were formerly used as mascots at Massillon’s Washington High School.

Regulators denied Hetrick’s permit because it was filed extremely late and inspectors had several concerns about how the animals were housed, said Erica Hawkins, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

An inspection found that the fencing was not adequate, some padlocks and chains were not secured, and some cages had exposed metal that could have harmed the animals, she said. Owners in Ohio were required to obtain the state permits by the beginning of 2014.

The state began requiring permits and toughened laws on private ownership after the 2011 release of dozens of wild animals by a suicidal owner at his eastern Ohio farm in Zanesville. Fearing for public safety, authorities hunted down and killed most of those animals, including black bears, Bengal tigers, and African lions.

To obtain a permit, owners now must pass a background check, pay fees, obtain liability insurance or surety bonds and show they can properly contain animals.

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