Recently, the story of lions, tigers and bears being kept in backyards in Ohio made headlines. Some of the owners kept the animals in what animal welfare experts described as prison-like conditions for nearly a decade. Some of these animals were confiscated, some were relinquished to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). And, with some, we were able to work closely with the animals owners, to help get the animals grandfathered in.
This scenario has been all too common in Ohio over the last several months. All as a result of legislation – SB 310, the Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals Act – a bill enacted in 2013 to regulate private ownership of exotic animals within the state.
Ohio, a state notorious for residents who keep exotic animals like lions, tigers, bears, chimpanzees and even rhinos, was one of only seven states left in the U.S. with no regulations on private ownership. Sadly this meant the situation was often grim – animals kept in deplorable conditions and dilapidated enclosures, unsafe for both human and animal. But SB 310 has helped turn things around. It was enacted to set a standard, to protect public safety and to ensure the humane welfare of these animals who have no voice of their own.
On January 1, 2014 SB 310 went into full effect. The new law required private owners of exotic animals like big cats, bears, primates and venomous snakes to register their animals with the state, obtain a permit and liability insurance, and meet specific standards for housing their inherently dangerous wild animals. And since then, ODA officials have been working to enforce the law. This has resulted in an uproar from many of Ohio’s private owners, as some were unable to meet the new standards, while others flat-out refused to comply. Such is the case for several private owners who recently were served warrants to relinquish their animals to the state or have them seized, because they never took the measures to come into compliance, and therefore, were breaking the law. Bobbi Brink, our Founder/Director says “Unfortunately, these can be the circumstances we deal with. It is a difficult thing to enforce something, when the people it affects most don’t always believe in it, but it is the right thing for the animals.”
Lions Tigers & Bears has worked extensively with ODA officials and fellow sanctuaries to help private owners in varying situations, all of whom had been affected by the new law. From private owners who wanted to step away from it all, to others who worked to come into compliance with the new standards, and those who ignored the new law and fought until the end to keep their animals – refusing any help sent their way.
In fact, our rescue team successfully coordinated numerous rescues and relocations out of the state of Ohio in the last four years. From six black bears that were being kept together in a 15′ x 30′ cage all of their life, to a defunct sanctuary home to nearly three dozen big cats and bears, to a sole bear kept in a double corn crib for nearly a decade. Each of these rescues came at a time when SB 310 was ramping up and the animals were in desperate need of help.
Our team also provided some private owners in Ohio chain link, gates, and supplies to build more adequate living quarters for their animals. Our rescue team, even offered to fly out to help build more adequate living quarters for the animals, in hopes that they would meet the standards, and the animals would be grandfathered in under the new legislation. The hopes were that this assistance would have helped them meet the new standards set forth by the law. However, the outcome did not always go as planned, as the materials provided sat untouched long after the rescue team departed.
“And this is the nature of the situation. We go in and work with the owners and the state, to help them come up to standard, but each case has multiple variables, (and personalities) that affect the outcome ,” states Brink.
Since 2012, our rescue team has collectively rescued nearly 70 big cats and bears out of the state of Ohio, providing each animal with medical care and transport to new lifetime homes at reputable sanctuaries including our own. Sometimes these animals never had a veterinary exam in their entire life. Sometimes these animals were never fed a proper diet, never felt grass beneath their paws, nor had access to water to splash and play in – but together, we are changing that, and helping save one animal at a time.
UPDATE (November 27, 2015):
In regards to the recent rescue of six animals out of the state of Ohio:
Recently, in November 2015, LTB completed the rescue of six animals out of the state of Ohio which included four tigers that were relinquished to ODA officials, alongside Marion County Sheriff’s Department, Ohio State Highway Patrol, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, by their private owner in October 2015. At the time the animals were relinquished, the private owner had recently completed construction – just two months prior – on a more suitable habitat (that still did not meet the standards of the new law) but was a step up from the dilapidated pole barn the cats were being kept in for years. This rescue caused an uproar amongst many private owners and their supporters in Ohio with speculations stating LTB injured one of the cats, a white tiger named Clarence, during transport. LTB has successfully rescued over 70 big cats and bears – the most of any individual or organization – out of the state of Ohio alone, providing them medical care and transport to lifetime homes at reputable sanctuaries including our own. Never once, has an animal been injured during transport while under our care.
In regards to the $250,000 contract:
The Ohio Controlling Board approved a $250,000 contract to ODA to reimburse Lions Tigers & Bears for rescue and transport expenses incurred through the rescue and relocation of animals seized and/or relinquished to the state. For each rescue that LTB does out of the state of Ohio, we must pay for it out of pocket. After the rescue is completed, all expenses are totaled and an invoice is created which is submitted to Ohio. 60 days later – if the invoice is approved, LTB is reimbursed. The $250,000 contract is not an amount that was just handed over to LTB in one lump sum.
LTB has rescued and provided transport to over 40 animals without ever being reimbursed. Each of these rescues was paid for through the generous donations of our members and supporters and limited grant fund. In fact, for the last three rescues that we have done under contract of the state, we only billed for a portion of the actual costs – meaning we used grant funds and LTB’s own funds to pay to rescue these animals.
Why was Lions Tigers & Bears chosen by Ohio officials to transport animals under contract?
LTB is the only accredited sanctuary in the United States that has owns a fully-self contained animal transport hauler with features including: onboard first aid (for both animals and humans), an anesthesia machine, running water, air-conditioning, fans, tools, capture equipment and safety transport cages. This hauler is the safest and least stress-inducing way to transport inherently dangerous wild animals like lions, tigers and bears. LTB also has an expertly trained team who are capable of handling these types of animals, and have collectively helped relocate dozens of big cats, including lions, tigers, leopard, mountain lions and bears from captive situations in Ohio and throughout the United States, providing them medical care and transport to lifetime homes at reputable sanctuaries.
In regards to Clarence the tiger:
There have been several comments on the condition of one of the tigers, a white tiger named Clarence, who was rescued and transported to his new home at a Nevada sanctuary. There were allegations that Clarence was injured during transport, and suffered from “open wounds” which were actually rub marks, not open wounds, and was examined by a veterinary. The veterinarian stated that the hair will grow back, and no treatment is necessary.
In October 2015, five tigers were relinquished by their private owner to Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) officials. Each animal, including Clarence, was sedated on site and provided a baseline medical examination prior to being transported off the property to the Reynoldsburg,Ohio Dangerous Wild Animals Holding Facility.
The following photos, which are public record, were taken by ODA officials during the baseline medical exams on-site at the private owners property in October 2015. This is the state Clarence was in when relinquished to ODA officials by his private owner!