Deadlines are looming for those who own exotic animals in Ohio.
Some owners are struggling to keep their treasured creatures, which others are sending theirs out of state.
Richard Bond owns chickens, horses, dogs and a wild cat named Screech on his rural Muskingum County farm.
“She’s a 6-year-old Siberian lynx that I’ve raised since she was about 3 months old,” Bond said.
Bond said that safety is the key when stepping into Screech’s cage.
“When you have wild animals like this, you expect to get bit,” Bond said.
Bond’s mother, Nancy Wider, said that she watches her son and Screech with a careful eye.
“She happens to have a very nice temperament,” Wider said. “I’ve never had a problem with her.”
Wider said that her family moved from New York to Ohio five years ago for a chance to raise her animals free from the peering eyes of restrictions.
All of that has changed now with the passing of an exotic animal registration law in Ohio that took effect in September.
Wider said that she now is worried about Screech’s future.
“There was no law. They were lax completely,” Wider said. “If the law comes up and I can’t get insurance, I’m putting her down, because you know what, she’s not going to a zoo. She’s not going to a sanctuary.”
The new law bans the ownership of new exotic animals in Ohio and requires existing owners to register and microchip their animals by Nov. 5.
To keep the lynx she loves, after the January 2014 final deadline, it could cost her more than $10,000.
“Can I afford that? No. Can anybody afford that? No,” Wider said.
At the height of exotic animal ownership, Wider owned more than 12 cats. Cages filled her lawn. She said that she sent them away well before the law was created. Now, others are forced to make the same choice.
“The problem with alligators is there’s so many of them in homes right now in Ohio,” said tim Harrison of Outreach for Animals. “When they reach this size, this is when you can’t handle them anymore.”
Harrison said that he is called in to rescue exotic animals when they run wild.
“It’s almost like having a time bomb in your home that somebody else has set, and you don’t know when that animal is going to ‘turn on you.’ That animal never turns on you. That tiger goes tiger, and that’s what it’s supposed to do,” Harrison said.
Many animals end up at Rescue One, a sanctuary for wild animals and a place Harrison said is a true “safe haven.”
Earlier this year, Angela Cziraky asked Harrison to help her quietly ship off all of her wild animals to help avoid public criticism.
“I started it, and it started with one cougar by accident. The greatest accident,” Cziraky said. “Seventeen tigers, 12 lions, seven cougars a bear, and we had a money.”
She said that things changed after the exotic animal tragedy in Zanesville last October.
Cziraky said that it was an emotional journey when nearby residents started threatening her “kids.”
“These kids were scared, you know, and nobody was going to back them up, and that’s not right,” Cziraky said.
She said the final straw was when someone poisoned and killed her treasured first cougar, Jewels.
“To keep them here, for selfish reasons, and take a gamble with them?” Cziraky said. “You know what happens next, We are continuing the poisoning, is it going to escalate?”
Cziraky said that her head told her to let the animals go, but her heart never will. She now is confident they are safe and in good hands.
“These are the forgotten animals, these are not endangered Bengal tigers. These are the fourth and fifth generation buckeyes, raised in the state of Ohio,” Harrison said.
Though Harrison and Cziraky now preach against the private ownership of exotic animals, Wider said that she is better with her animals than without.
“Of course, it hurts me. You think I raised her so I have to put her to sleep? You think I sold my house in New York so I’d move here, so I’d lose my one cat that I kept, when I sent the others out?” Wider said.
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