Federal Court Upholds New Ohio Exotic Pet Law

Court holds Ohio legislature can “decide whether and how best to regulate such matters as the possession, care and transfer of these animals” 

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division has issued a verdict upholding Ohio’s new and much needed regulations on the possession of dangerous wild animals as pets. The verdict came a week after the Court conducted a three day trial on the constitutionality of the law, which was challenged by certain exotic pet owners and breeders who fought commonsense restrictions for decades. The Humane Society of the United States intervened in the case to defend the measure, alongside the Ohio Attorney General and the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

“Three days of trial testimony and the Court’s resulting verdict have left no doubt that Ohio’s commonsense restrictions on the keeping of dangerous wild animals are not only necessary, but entirely constitutional,” said Karen Minton, Ohio state director for The Humane Society of the United States. “There should never again be a crisis like the one in Zanesville, and powerful wild animals should never be kept in someone’s backyard or basement as pets. The reckless individuals who created this very problem in the first place should not be allowed to put public safety and animal welfare further at risk, and put the financial burden on Ohio taxpayers and private groups to clean up their mess.”

The new law, S.B. 310, the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, sponsored by Sen. Troy Balderson, R-Zanesville, was enacted following several incidents relating to dangerous wild animals in Ohio, including the October 2011 Zanesville tragedy in which nearly 50 large animals, including tigers, grizzly bears and lions, were released from their cages by their owner into a residential community, and subsequently killed by law enforcement scurrying to protect public safety. The HSUS strongly supports the efforts of Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture to implement and enforce the new law.

The new law generally prohibits future private acquisition of dangerous wild animals, including big cats, some smaller exotic cats, bears, hyenas, gray wolves, some primate species, alligators and crocodiles. Current owners may keep their animals as long as they register and obtain a permit from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. In addition, the Act requires existing owners to obtain liability insurance, comply with housing and safety standards, once established, and comply with additional measures to protect public safety.

In its ruling today, the court found that “the animals covered under the Act are inherently dangerous, as they are not normally domesticated and pose unique threats to human life due to their physical and temperamental characteristics, including their strength, speed and unpredictability.”  Accordingly, the court concluded that “it is within the prerogative and function of the Ohio General Assembly, within constitutional parameters, to decide whether and how best to regulate such matters as the possession, care, and transfer of these animals.”

With the passage of the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animal Act, which went into effect on Sept. 5, only six states remain with little to no restrictions on the private possession of dangerous wild animals: Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, West Virginia, South Carolina and Wisconsin. These states should follow Ohio’s lead and adopt restrictions on the keeping of dangerous wild animals. 

The Humane Society of the United States is represented by McTigue & McGinnis LLC and lawyers with The HSUS’ Animal Protection Litigation section.

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