Ohio Gov. John Kasich transmitted disappointing news to the animal protection community today, in the wake of the tragedy this week in Zanesville. He announced an emergency order on the exotics issue at a press conference at his office, but its provisions are inadequate. The executive order largely restates current authority for the state’s executive agencies and sidesteps the central problems created by the exotic animal trade in Ohio.
The Humane Society of the United States agrees with him that the legislature should enact a statute that addresses the problem, but in the interim, we need an executive order that bans the sale and acquisition of dangerous wild animals as pets or roadside attractions. Our legal analysis demonstrates it’s clearly within his authority to take more comprehensive action as a bridge to protect people and animals until the legislature acts.
We also had a concern about tone struck by the governor and the other speakers. Neither the governor nor any other speaker at the press conference made a definitive statement that no private citizen should keep big cats, bears, or primates as pets or as roadside attractions. No one said it’s too dangerous for the community, it’s inhumane for the animals, or it’s too costly for the state to regulate.
So not only is the emergency order too weak, but the prospects for a sound recommendation from the governor’s task force on the issue are not bright. Of the seven non-governmental organizations represented on the task force, two are exotic animal industry groups. One member, Polly Britton of the Ohio Association of Animal Owners (OAAO), is a notorious mouthpiece for the exotics industry and also has opposed just about every bit of animal welfare legislation in the state, including stronger anti-cockfighting and anti-puppy mill bills. The OAAO represents the exotic animal owners in the state, including one of the largest animal auctions in the nation, in Mount Hope, Ohio. There is also a representative from the deceptively named Zoological Association of America (not to be confused with the respected Association of Zoos and Aquariums), which accredits poorly run roadside zoos, sanctions public contact with dangerous animals, and was created “ to protect and defend the right to own animals.”
The public is outraged by the deficiencies in Ohio law and the deaths of so many innocent animals. They want political leaders to step up and turn this situation around. Sadly, the action announced today will barely move the needle. More work for us lies ahead. You can help by taking action here.