Ohio Officials to Return 5 Exotic Animals to Widow
-- April 30, 2012 -- by Anne Sanner
Reynoldsburg, OH (AP) - State officials will return five surviving exotic animals to a woman whose husband released dozens of wild creatures before committing suicide.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced the decision Monday at an agency hearing in which the state was to defend its authority to quarantine the animals - two leopards, two primates and a bear - on suspicion of infectious diseases.
A spokeswoman for the agency said that the state had exhausted its authority in the case and that the state's agriculture director would lift the quarantine order that was placed on the animals in October. Medical results released last week showed all five animals are free of the dangerously contagious or infectious diseases for which they were tested.
That means the animals can be returned to Marian Thompson, of Zanesville, though it's unclear when. Logistics for retrieving the animals will have to be worked out between Thompson and the Columbus zoo, which has been holding the animals, said agriculture spokesman Erica Pitchford.
Once the animals are returned to Thompson, nothing in Ohio law allows state officials to check on their welfare or require improvements to conditions in which they are kept, Pitchford said.
The local humane society could intervene with help from the county prosecutor if there were an investigation into animal cruelty, she said.
"While repeated appeals have been made to local authorities to seek a court order to inspect the Thompson party to ensure the safety of the animals and the public, so far, no such local action has been taken," Pitchford said.
Messages were left Monday with the Muskingum County prosecutor.
Barry McElfresh, president of the county's humane society, said he's been to Thompson's property three times to investigate complaints since October and found no violations.
"I've never had a problem with Marian," McElfresh said. "I truly believe after all these goings on that she will be making a good effort."
He said the county's humane officer is prepared to make inspections and alert authorities if she's not properly caring for the animals.
Zoo spokeswoman Patty Peters said the facility must follow certain protocols for the animals to be handed over to Thompson. For instance, she said, the animals must be sedated for the transfer, but they have to fast for 24 hours before being given the sedative.
Peters said the animals were fed Monday morning, and Wednesday would likely be the earliest they could be moved. Details are still being worked out, she said.
Thompson and her attorney, Robert McClelland, declined to answer reporters' questions about the animals' return as they left Monday's hearing at the department's headquarters in Reynoldsburg, just outside of Columbus.
Thompson is the widow of Terry Thompson, who released 56 animals - including black bears, mountain lions and Bengal tigers - from his eastern Ohio farm Oct. 18 before he committed suicide. Fearing for the public's safety, authorities killed 48 of the animals.
Three leopards, two Celebes macaques and a bear survived and were taken to the Columbus zoo. One spotted leopard had to be euthanized at the zoo in January, and the other animals have been there since October. The macaques are small primates; the female weighs about 6 pounds, and the male weighs more than 10 pounds.
Fred Polk, Thompson's next-door neighbor, said he doesn't want the animals to return. Five creatures were killed on his property in October, including a cougar that was 15 feet from his front porch.
The ordeal terrified his wife, the 80-year-old Polk said. And if the animals got out again, he said, "I'm going to file the biggest lawsuit you've ever seen on them."
McClelland has told the agriculture department that his client has adequate cages for the surviving animals, according to a letter obtained last week by The Associated Press through a public records request.
State officials issued a quarantine order because they said they were concerned about reports that the animals lived in unsanitary conditions where they could be exposed to disease.
Tom Stalf, the Columbus zoo's chief operating officer, said in a sworn statement released Friday by the agriculture department that he was at the Thompsons' property the day the animals were released. He said he saw two primates held in separate, small bird cages, along with a brown bear that was kept in a cage that wasn't fit for its size.
Terry Thompson's suicide, the animals' release and their killings led lawmakers to re-examine the state's restrictions on exotic pets, which are considered some of the nation's weakest.
The state Senate recently passed a bill that would ban new ownership of monkeys, lions and other exotic animals. It now goes to the House for consideration.
Gov. John Kasich, the Columbus zoo, and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation support the measure, which would allow current owners to keep their animals by obtaining a new state-issued permit by 2014 and meeting other strict conditions. Facilities accredited by some national zoo groups would be exempt from the bill, along with sanctuaries and research institutions.
Associated Press writers Andrew Welsh-Huggins and Barbara Rodriguez in Columbus contributed to this report.
Ohio Deputies Say Bears, Big Cats Charged Them
--November 4, 2012 --
Toledo, OH (CBS/AP) - Deputies who arrived at a private compound in Ohio where dozens of exotic animals were set free by their owner last month encountered lions and bears charging at them and crashing through fences, forcing them to shoot and kill the animals, according to reports released Friday.
They found animals crouching between abandoned vehicles and tigers still coming out of their cages. A tiger and a black bear were in the same enclosure, but the door was unlocked and open.
"As I backed the team up, the tiger came out the door and charged right at us," said deputy Jay Lawhorne.
With little time to react, deputies shot the tiger. Another deputy said he shot a charging black bear that dropped within seven feet of him.
Sheriff's deputies were forced to kill 48 wild animals, including bears, lions and endangered Bengal tigers, after their owner, Terry Thompson, threw open their cages late in the afternoon on Oct. 18 and then committed suicide on his farm in rural eastern Ohio near Zanesville.
Deputies said they saw the man's body but couldn't get near him to determine whether he was alive because a white tiger "appeared to be eating the body," a report said.
Authorities have said that it appeared one of the big cats dragged Thompson's body and that there was a bite mark on his head.
He told one of his farm hands on the night before he released the animals that he was upset about his marital problems and that he had a plan, said a deputy who talked with the caretaker.
Thompson, 62, then told the caretaker: "you will know it when it happens."
The reports released by the Muskingum County Sheriff's office reveal the chaotic scene deputies encountered and just how close the animals came to some of them.
Authorities have defended their decision to shoot and kill the animals, saying they were trying to protect the public.
Their main concern appeared to be making sure none of the animals got near or outside the fences that separated the farm from several neighboring houses and Interstate 70, according to the reports released by the Muskingum County Sheriff's office.
Two deputies shot a pair of lions running near a fence along an interstate highway. A deputy says one lion got up and charged at him before he killed it. "One of the African lions that we had shot got up and started running towards us," a deputy said. "At this point, we opened fire on it again, eventually killing it."
One deputy said he shot a shot a lion after it busted through a fence and race toward a road. At the same time, he saw other deputies firing at several other lions running through the front yards of neighboring houses.
He then came across a mountain lion that was hissing and showing its teeth.
Several of the cages and surrounding fencing had been cut, making it impossible for authorities to secure the animals, the reports said.
One lion came within three feet of an auxiliary deputy who was trying to close the cage doors, but did not see a hole had been cut in the cage, Lawhorne said.
Just days before he set the animals free, he told a deputy that he was having a tough time taking care of the animals after spending a year in prison on a gun conviction. He also was having marital problems and deep in debt to the IRS.
Last week, the state Agriculture Department ordered that the six surviving exotic animals would be kept under quarantine at a zoo for now instead of going to the man's widow.
The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium was trying to stop Marian Thompson from reclaiming three leopards, two primates and a young grizzly bear that have been cared for by the zoo since Thompson set them free.