MASSILLON, Ohio - The owners of a Stark County animal farm knew Terry Thompson, the man who freed dozens of exotic animals before killing himself, and even tried to help him care for his animals a few years ago.
The Huntsman family, which operates Stump Hill Farm in Massillon, said Thompson requested help to make sure his cages met USDA requirements.
"About two year ago, we went and put all of his facility up to USDA standards and helped to guide him in the right direction," said Tricyn Huntsman.
But the Huntsman family feels Thompson lost that direction. He got a divorce, spent time in prison on weapons charges, and seemed to be more concerned about collecting animals than caring for them.
"He lost his wife, he lost his freedom for a while and he snapped," explained Cyndi Huntsman. The owners of Stump Hill said tougher laws are needed to hold irresponsible owners of exotic animals accountable.
"We need harsher laws, stricter laws, on people who think it's OK to buy a tiger," Tricyn said. Stump Hill has more than 250 exotic animals including lions, tigers, bears, wolves, monkeys and porcupines. About 10,000 people visit the Stark County farm each year through private appointments.
The owners said they get their animals through rescues, zoo closings, or animal auctions and they have several licenses, including a USDA license.
Cyndi said the license is an important distinction that lawmakers should be focusing on. "The whole quick fix for all of this is just to require anyone who has a large or dangerous carnivore become USDA licensed," Cyndi said.
Still, the Huntsman family acknowledged too many exotic animals end up in the wrong hands through greedy breeders and the black market.
"The black market is awful and nobody knows where it is or anything. There's a black market there that nobody even knows about," Tricyn said.