Many pet owners use microchips to ensure that if their animals are lost or stolen, they can be found. It’s a technology that has been used by humane societies, rescue groups, and clinics.
But what about exotic pets? Should tigers or lions be chipped?
The epicenter of this debate is Ohio, where four exotic animal owners have filed a lawsuit against the Ohio Department of Agriculture and its director David Daniels claiming that a new law which would mandate them to microchip exotic animals violated their First Amendment and personal property rights.
Represented by Attorney Robert Owens, Captive Born Reptiles’ owner Terry Wilkins, USDA-inspected Stump Hill Farm’s owner Cyndi Huntsman, Paws and Claws Animal Sanctuary owner Mike Stapleton, and Sean Trimbach of the USDA-licensed Best Exotics LLC, were successful in delaying the enforcement of the new law until a hearing in mid-December.
According to a Columbus clerk in the United States District Court of the Southern District of Ohio, a restraining order was also filed on November 6 and a conference is scheduled to meet November 28. The clerk couldn’t comment on the details of the restraining order.
With all the exotic animal headlines since the tragic 2011 Zanesville, Ohio incident, it seems human rights would be less of an issue in this lawsuit; however, by “a violation of personal property rights,” the exotic animal owners mean that their animals will face health risks due to microchipping, which is lithium-based in Ohio because the state does not have readers to detect non-lithium chips.
According to Karen Minton, Ohio state director for the Humane Society of the United States, “Microchipping has long been a common, and sometimes required practice, for dogs and cats. It is not dangerous. The chip is inserted via an injection, just like a vaccination.”
As for the violation of First Amendment rights, the owners do not want to have to align themselves with associations like the ZAA or AZA, which tend to lobby for issues in opposition to the animal owners’ ideologies. In addition, those associations, according to the owners, are expensive to join and if membership is needed in order to obtain an ODA wildlife shelter permit, the cost to own the animals is more than the animals are worth.
The question remains, if these exotic animal owners truly love their exotics, would the cost of being responsible for them really matter? Also, shouldn’t these animals be considered priceless anyways?
Already, as of 3 p.m. Monday, a total of 130 owners, not including zoos, have collectively registered 483 animals under the new law.
It seems the four exotic animal owners should give their case a rest and get on the bandwagon, but according to the Coshocton Tribune, Attorney “Owens is portraying exotic animal owners as a persecuted group with a small number of members who are subject to a law passed without consideration of their rights.”
In the Verified Exotic Animal Ban Complaint against the ODA, Terry Wilkins is profiled as a small business owner that “does not take and resell animals that have been captured from the wild.” Rather, “he only sells animals that are born and bred in captivity.” Does he mean the captivity of his store, Captive Born Reptiles?
As for Huntsman, Stump Hill Farm is portrayed in the Verified Complaint as a “nonprofit exotic animal education center” that “provides rescue and care to animals in need,” even though admission is $10 per person and the animals have been featured on television shows with David Letterman, Maury Povich, Roseanne Barr, Rachel Ray, Jay Leno, and more. Sean Trimbach also makes a profit on his animals by breeding exotic bears, lemurs and snakes for private owners and zoos, while Mike Stapleton’s Paws and Claws Animal Sanctuary solely serves to “provide tiger and bear rescue for closing zoos and other sanctuaries that are overcrowded and from private owners who can no longer care for them.”
Stapleton seems to be the only exotic animal owner with a viable case; however, it is because of irresponsible exotic animal owners that his sanctuary exists. Stapleton says on his website: “I can only say at this time that I am in fact one of four plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in the United Sates District Court , Southern District, Eastern Division today. This is not something I’m doing for just myself or just exotic animal owners. We are doing this for ALL Ohio residents. This is a right that has been taken away from you and I. Wish us luck on getting it back.”
According to the Coshocton Tribune, “The agriculture department is declining to comment on litigation other than to say it is committed to ‘ending casual ownership of dangerous, wild animals.’”
If it is decided that the law will still stand without modifications after the lawsuit, the government has the power to seize the animals if the ODA does not provide the owners with a wildlife shelter permit; it is also possible for any government employee to destroy an exotic animal if it poses a public safety threat.
Currently, the Verified Complaint from the plaintiffs on the lawsuit states “that there is no guidance as to what constitutes a such a threat.”
Come December, hopefully the nuances of the law will be figured out and the judge on the case will come to a decision that ensures the safety of both the animals and the public.
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