Ohio tragedy brings sorrow, nationwide calls for action

Ohio is one among 7 select states with very relaxed laws on owning exotic animals. (AP photo/Tony Dejak)


Three years ago two Mennonite brothers in Berks County, Pa. took out their shotguns and opened fire on 80 of their breeding dogs in their cages rather than get flea treatment as ordered by state dog wardens.

The General Assembly was on summer break and passage of a bill to overhaul the state dog law was threatened by a powerful opposition lobby from breeders, sportsmen and the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association.

The outcry that followed propelled the legislation to final passage less two months later.

Will the massacre of 50 wild animals on a "reserve" in southeastern Ohio do the same for efforts to end the trade and sale of big cats, bears and monkeys to private citizens?

Many are hoping so.

The Humane Society of the United States, along with many other wildlife protection and advocacy groups, are calling for exactly that, saying there's no reason for individuals to have these potentially dangerous animals in their backyards or basements - not to mention the cruelty inflicted on a wild animal kept in such conditions.

Ohio is among seven states with the weakest laws on exotic animal sale and ownership. Virtually every month somewhere in the state wild animals are being put on the auction block and sold to the highest bidder no questions asked.

A so-called "alternative' animal sale is scheduled Nov. 4 at the Mt. Hope Auction in Mt. Hope - which is 90 minutes from Zanesville, the site of this week's animal tragedy. 

[Ohio is also the site of notorious dog auctions that activists are trying to outlaw through a ballot initiative.]

Born Free USA has a fabulous website where you can search state laws on exotics and chart the thousands of incidents involving "pet" wild animals  - including attacks on humans and escapes - reported nationwide.

New Jersey already bans private ownership of exotic animals. In Pennsylvania you must have a Game Commission-issued permit to own most types of large wildlife. As of today there are 28 individuals with those permits. A bill that passed the House Game and Fisheries Committee last spring - with the support of the PA Game Commission - but has stalled would end those types of permits. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Staback (D., Lycoming), would not affect zoos or licensed wildlife sanctuaries and rehab facilities. I write about that issue in today's Inquirer.

I'll spare the links to the carnage in Ohio - there are plenty of places to find it out there - and point you toward other stories. Animal Planet takes a look, with pictures, at the six animals that survived the slaughter. (One of the three surviving leopards is pictures above.)

The canine philosopher Terrierman examines the role of public zoos that overbreed with the growth of backyard wild animal farms.

ABC News (below) last night looked at the proliferation of ownership dangers of exotics across the country. The piece highlights a new documentary "The Elephant in the Living Room" tracks the booming exotics trade and efforts by the activist - and former Ohio police officer - Tim Harrison to stop it.

As HSUS president Wayne Pacelle told ABC, "it's a shame we need for these horrible incidents for a wake up call."