PATASKALA, Ohio - Police are not sure how to handle a pet cougar accused of biting an Ohio social services worker because it appears the owner didn't act illegally, and the state's new exotic animal law doesn't take effect until fall.
A Licking County Children Services worker told police the animal bit her finger through a backyard fence at a home in central Ohio's Pataskala on Monday, according to a police report. The worker told police she was at the home to evaluate whether it was safe for two twin 3-year-old girls to live there with relatives and that she drove to a hospital to have her bleeding finger treated.
Pataskala police reported the incident to Ohio Department of Natural Resources because they didn't know whom to call, since the new law doesn't take effect until Sept. 3, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
"We're all kind of scratching our heads now," police Chief Bruce Brooks told the newspaper.
Brooks did not immediately return calls to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The caseworker, Cindy Robson wrote in a statement to police that the animal was in a fenced-in enclosure, and that the owner, Evelyn Shaw, petted it and told Robson that she do so.
"I did not pet the mountain lion," wrote Robson, 51. "I simply ran my hand along the outside of the fence and it grabbed my left pinky finger and held on." Robson said she felt teeth, although she said Shaw had told her the animal had none.
Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the natural resources agency, said Wednesday that the agency has no enforcement authority in the case because the cougar is not a native species to Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture, which will issue permits under the new law, also does not have authority, spokeswoman Erica Pitchford said Wednesday.
"We took copies of the police report, and we are aware that there are exotic animals on the property, Pitchford said. "Once our authority kicks in, we will be there to be sure regulations are being followed."
Ohioans will be prohibited from buying new dangerous exotic animals under the law, and current owners will be required to register their animals with the state within 60 days of the law's effective date. Owners also must obtain a new state-issued permit by 2014 and follow strict new caretaking standards and inspections.
The legislation took on more urgency after exotic animal owner Terry Thompson released about 50 of his animals -- including bears, lions and tigers -- near Zanesville last October before killing himself. Most of the animals were killed by authorities
Neither Robson nor Shaw could be reached for comment Wednesday. Messages were left at Robson's Newark office and at the home of Shaw, who also was listed on the police report as Evelyn Varney-Shaw.
Shaw spoke out against the exotic animal bill earlier this year before a legislative committee hearing testimony on it. She told lawmakers that she had purchased and maintained her animals legally and that the legislation would "either cause the death of my animals or force me to go from a law-abiding citizen to a criminal."
Shaw also testified that the law would force many owners to euthanize their animals and that those not put to death "will die of loneliness from being ripped from their owners."
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