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The HSUS Renews Call for West Virginia to Pass Law to Ban Dangerous Exotic Pets after Ohio Incident

The Humane Society of the United States is calling on West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to issue an emergency order or otherwise direct the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources to adopt regulations on the sale and possession of dangerous wild animals following the escape Tuesday night of 48 wild animals—from bears to wolves to lions—from an exotic animal menagerie in Zanesville, Ohio. Lax laws in West Virginia make it one of the weakest in the country, threatening the safety of its residents, and would hardly keep such incidents from occurring here.

West Virginia has little oversight of exotic animal ownership; West Virginia has no regulation of exotic animals and requires a permit only for species native to the state. This would not include animals such as tigers and primates.

“How many incidents must we catalogue before states like West Virginia take action to crack down on private ownership of dangerous exotic animals,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “In recent years, people have died and suffered injuries because states haven’t exhibited the foresight to stop private citizens from keeping dangerous wild animals as pets or as roadside attractions, and the situation gets more surreal with every new incident, including this mass escape or release of large animals in Muskingum County, Ohio.”

In response to the Zanesville incident alone, Ohio authorities have already spent enormous resources on personnel, helicopters, infrared, and equipment to chase down and kill free-roaming exotic animals in order to protect public safety.

Authorities reported that exotic pet farm owner Terry Thompson was found dead on his Zanesville property, and cages were open where he had kept dozens of lions, bears and wolves. The animals were roaming the streets, and many have already been shot by responders.

Ohio is one of several states that don’t regulate private ownership of dangerous wild animals, jeopardizing public safety and animal welfare. Addressing the issue was one of the elements of a deal struck by The HSUS and agricultural leaders in Ohio to advance a series of animal welfare policies in the state.

Some states that previously had no restrictions on exotic pets have enacted prohibitions in recent years — such as Washington, Kentucky and Iowa — putting them now among the best in the nation. Some states that already prohibit certain wild animals such as big cats as pets need to add primates to the list, including Arkansas, Connecticut, Illinois, Kansas, Michigan and Virginia. 


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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the Web at humanesociety.org.  


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