Ohio governor to sign new regulations on exotic animals

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's governor signed into law Tuesday the state's widely watched new regulations on exotic animals, calling a suicidal owner's release of dozens of lions, tigers and other dangerous creatures months ago "about as bizarre as anything gets."

The state had some of the nation's weakest restrictions on exotic pets. And Gov. John Kasich acknowledged the lax rules as he prepared to sign the legislation at a Statehouse ceremony.

"Ohio was really the wild, wild West," Kasich said. "We had virtually no rules and no regulations in terms of all this."

Regulatory efforts took on new urgency in October, when Terry Thompson released 50 animals -- including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers -- from his eastern Ohio farm in Zanesville before he committed suicide. Authorities were forced to kill almost all of the animals.

The measure, which takes effect on Sept. 3, will people from buying new dangerous exotic animals.

Current owners could keep their creatures by registering them with the state within 60 days of the law's effective date. Owners also must obtain a new state-issued permit by 2014 and adhere to strict new caretaking standards and inspections.

Kasich, a first-term Republican, said getting a bill passed by the GOP-led state Legislature was frustrating at times, because the issue proved it was more complex than what it seemed.

"Where do you put the animals? What animals do we take? What do you do about venomous snakes? What do we do about this? We don't have enough places to put these animals? Who is going take them?" Kasich said. "You just wouldn't believe the amount of time."

Kasich was flanked at the bill signing by state officials, state lawmakers from Zanesville and celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna, who had criticized the Legislature in February for not swiftly passing new regulations.

Hanna told the lawmakers on Tuesday that he appreciates their work.

"What you're setting here is a precedent for those states that have no laws as well," Hanna said. "I am very proud of Ohio."

Kasich said the state now has reasonable, tough restrictions on the animals that will keep the public and animals safe.

Still, he cautioned, "I don't want anyone to think that this is all solved and that there could not be another problem."

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