Ohio could spend $3.5 million on facility for confiscated exotic animals

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The state of Ohio wants to spend $3.5 million to build and operate a facility that would temporarily house exotic animals confiscated under a new law that's about to take effect.

The state Controlling Board, which handles certain adjustments to the state budget, would have to approve the Ohio Department of Agriculture's request for the money. The issue will be considered at a meeting Sept. 10.

The amount was reported Friday in a meeting agenda released by the Ohio Office of Budget and Management. The request includes $2.93 million to construct the facility, which would be built on the Agriculture Department's campus in a rural part of Reynoldsburg, just east of Columbus.

The proposal comes as the state prepares to crack down on owners of exotic animals in Ohio.

The new law, which takes effect Sept. 5, will immediately ban people from buying new dangerous exotic animals. Ohio officials can seize animals from current owners if those owners don't meet the state's requirements or are found housing an animal without a permit.

Any seized animals would be cared for under the supervision of the state veterinarian, according to the agriculture department.

Efforts to strengthen Ohio's restrictions on exotic pets, which have been among the nation's weakest, increased after owner Terry Thompson released 50 animals, including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers, from his eastern Ohio farm in Zanesville in October. He then committed suicide.

Authorities killed 48 of the animals as a public safety measure, and two others were believed to have been eaten by other animals.

The agriculture department's offices at the site for the planned facility that would house confiscated exotic animals are near those of the state fire marshal and close to fields. The campus is already fenced, but the state would add more fencing and possibly hire a security guard, according to Agriculture Department spokeswoman Erica Pitchford.

"This is not going to be a threat to our employees, just like it won't be a threat to our neighbors," Pitchford said last week. "It will be well built, it will be very secure, and it will be well looked after."

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