Animal ownership is at risk
By Trent Loos
It appears that the state of Ohio will continue to be the focal point of the nation on the right to own animals. In the name of animal welfare or even “protection of the citizens” of their respective states, our “right” to own an animal is at risk. I know there will be a certain number of you who cringe at this, but any law that says you cannot own a grizzly bear makes it tougher for you to own a chicken for food production.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not only happening in Ohio. The American Veterinary Medical Association recently pointed out that in recent years, legislators have been even more active in their attempts to regulate livestock care. Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia adopted bills relating to livestock care standards and/or local government authority over livestock care.
I will say this without stuttering. We do not need a lawmaker sitting in a 70 degree room telling farmers how to provide proper animal care. As far as I can see, the government should have nothing to do with animal care. Writing a law to penalize an animal abuser is a completely different subject and worthy of a discussion.
Back to the state of Ohio and bears. On Jan. 1 a new law went into effect making it virtually impossible to own an exotic animal. What the state law did was create a system that requires anyone interested in owning a tiger, bear, chimp or other exotic animal to get a permit. This is not a big deal until you find out that the permitting standards are so unrealistic that not a single permit has been issued since the process was initiated in October 2013. If you did not own any of these animals prior to that time, you are not even allowed to apply for a permit.
All of this is the result of a very suspicious series of events that took place in Ohio in October 2011. Terry Thompson from Zanesville, Ohio, reportedly freed his 56 exotic animals, then shot himself near their pens. The cages that contained the animals were cut open with a bolt cutter, despite his having the key to the pens in his pocket. Autopsy reports indicate that his genitals were removed. I refuse to accept that is something one does before they shoot themselves.
Despite the barrage of questionable “facts” that have led many to question whether this was a suicide or not, here is what we know for sure. Ohio state lawmakers, in a knee-jerk reaction to this heinous crime, created a set of laws that has every single exotic animal owner in the state looking out the window expecting someone to show up and confiscate the animals they have cared for for years.
One such owner is Daniel Chambers. Daniel owns three brown bears, a grizzly bear and three tigers. I asked him why he chose to own these animals. His response was, “They are my pets. I really enjoy providing their care and working with them.”
The more I talked to Daniel, the more I saw the parallels between owning a Bengal tiger and owning a cow. In fact, as he walked through every challenge he has faced in the past year and a half in confronting this lawmaking process, I have heard the same exact verbiage and reasoning used to support passing livestock care standards by lawmakers.
The statement that really perked my ears came from a judge who ruled on the case of the constitutionality of the law, which was tried in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio’s Eastern Division. The ruling went in favor of the state and the court said “the animals covered under the Act are inherently dangerous, as they are not normally domesticated and pose unique threats to human life due to their physical and temperamental characteristics, including their strength, speed and unpredictability.”
I don’t know of one single person who was killed by an exotic animal in 2013, but I have three personal friends who were killed by farm animals in 2013. One was killed by a ram sheep, one by a cow and the third by a 600-pound steer.
If we appreciate the right to own an animal, any animal, then we must engage in the fight. And for those of you reading this and saying, “There is no way I, as a cattle owner, can afford to defend someone’s right to own a bear or tiger,” then I urge you to take a look at your history book. How many times, not just in this battle but in battles of every kind, have we stepped back and waited because it wasn’t our fight, only to realize that when it was our fight, there was no one left to stand with us? A female bear is a called a sow. Lets stand together to defend the right to own and properly care for any kind of sow we might want to raise!
Editor’s note: Trent Loos is a sixth generation United States farmer, host of the daily radio show, Loos Tales, and founder of Faces of Agriculture, a non-profit organization putting the human element back into the production of food. Get more information at www.FacesOfAg.com, or email Trent at firstname.lastname@example.org.